How to Use Your Phone in Your Car Without Killing Anyone

Distraction is just a fingerprint or screen pattern away all the time—and when you’re driving, that’s just not safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2018, 400,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents and 2,841 were killed.

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Still, using your phone in the car can help you make the most of your time, navigate your route and stay connected to family and friends in case of emergencies. So, is there a safe way to use your phone in the car? We think so, but it comes with a caution: Driving is a full-time activity that deserves your complete attention.

While these tips can certainly help you keep your eyes on the road, you’ll need to keep your attention there as well, no matter what’s happening on your phone. With that little lecture out of the way, here are a few ways to make “driving while phoned” a little safer for you and others on the road, whether you favor and iPhone or and Android.

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Set up the iPhone’s “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature

While you can always change individual notification settings on your iPhone regarding, iOS now comes with a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode baked in. You can set up the feature to turn on automatically when your iPhone senses you’re are driving—or you can turn it on and off manually, ideally not when you have your hands on the wheel.

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Illustration for article titled How to Use Your Phone in Your Car Without Killing Anyone

Graphic: Apple

To set up Do Not Disturb for driving:

Illustration for article titled How to Use Your Phone in Your Car Without Killing Anyone

Graphic: Apple

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  1. Open your Settings app and tap “Do Not Disturb.”
  2. Tap “Activate” next to “Do Not Disturb While Driving.”
  3. In the next window, choose the option you want. “Automatically” will turn it on when you are driving and off when you stop; “When Connected to Car Bluetooth” will activate it when your phone pairs with your car’s hands-free system; “Manually” means you’ll have to turn it on and off in your settings screen; and “Activate with Carplay” will turn on “Do Not Disturb” mode when you phone connects to Apple CarPlay—if your car has the tech.

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Once the feature is activated, your phone will remain dark and silent save for emergency alerts, timers and alarms. If a message comes through, the sender will get an auto-response telling them that you are driving. If they reply with the word “urgent,” they’ll be able to break through your Do Not Disturb protection. As for calls, if your phone is connected to a Bluetooth system, all calls will come through. But if not, you can set the system to allow calls through only from people you choose—or if someone calls twice in a row in a short period of time.

To customize your “Do Not Disturb” settings:

  1. Open the Settings app and tap “Do Not Disturb.”
  2. Tap “Allow Calls From” and choose the group whose calls you will let break through the phone’s silent mode.
  3. Tap “Auto-Reply To” to set the segment of your contacts that will be blocked and receive and automatic message.
  4. Tap “Auto-Reply” to customize the message that you send to blocked contacts while driving.

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Note that even in “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode, all your messages will still reach into your phone and you can read them after you stop driving. You can also ask Siri, iOS’s voice assistant, to read you notifications while you’re driving.

If you have the driving mode enabled and you’re a passenger in someone’s car, the “Do Not Disturb Mode” will still activate, but you can simply tap “I’m not driving” to turn it off. Also, if you’re using your phone to navigate, the map and route information will still display in Do Not Disturb mode, and Siri will still narrate your course.

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Use Android Auto to stay safer while driving

Illustration for article titled How to Use Your Phone in Your Car Without Killing Anyone

Screenshot: Michael Franco

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Android Auto is Google’s version of Apple CarPlay, except that it can function on both Android-equipped phones and on the dash displays of cars equipped with the tech. We’ll be focusing on the version of Android Auto that runs on your phone.

Android Auto works best if your phone is running Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) or greater. It will still work on Android 5.0 (Lollipop), but you might experience performance issues. Also, the following instructions will work on all Android phones with operating systems between 5.0 and 9.0. Android 10 phones are slightly different, and we’ll get to them in a minute.

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Illustration for article titled How to Use Your Phone in Your Car Without Killing Anyone

Screenshot: Michael Franco

To get started, you’ll want to download the Android Auto app from the Google Play store. Launch it, and you’ll go through a series of screens containing warnings about using your phone while driving. Make sure you allow the app to access certain apps and features on your phone (such as your SMS messaging app, calendar and contacts), and link Google Assistant to the app. We can’t recommend that last step enough, as Google Assistant is really the backbone of Android Auto.

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During installation, you might also be asked to add certain apps if you don’t have them on your phone yet, such as Google Maps.

Once Android Auto’s setup is complete, launch the app to see a simplified version of your phone’s screen. This provides basic information like weather, messages from apps you’ve connected to Android Auto and a navigation option or two. The text is bigger and very easy to read so that you can spend less time looking at the screen and more time looking out the windshield. Plus, you can access Google Assistant with your voice and ask it to read messages, pull up directions, play your news and pretty much do everything that Assistant is known for.

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Illustration for article titled How to Use Your Phone in Your Car Without Killing Anyone

Screenshot: Michael Franco

You can also activate voice mode by tapping the mic in the upper-right corner. When you are done viewing any of the notifications in the white tiles, a swipe left or right will clear them. Exiting Android Auto is as simple as tapping the round button in the lower-left corner.

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To customize Android Auto, tap the hamburger button in the top-left corner, and then tap “Settings.” Some of the options you’ll see include:

Illustration for article titled How to Use Your Phone in Your Car Without Killing Anyone

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  • The ability to have your phone automatically resume whatever media it was playing the last time you were driving
  • Customizing your weather display.
  • Turning message notifications on or off, as well as choosing whether or not you’d like notifications to make any alert sounds.
  • Having the phone automatically turn on Bluetooth when the app is started.

You’ll also have the chance to have the app start automatically when your phone is in the presence of a certain Bluetooth device, such as a speaker or dash display in your car. From the Settings screen, you can also tap “Google Assistant” where, if you haven’t done so already, you can tailor features such as what you’d like covered in your news summary.

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If you have a Pixel 4, Pixel 3A or Pixel 3 phone, you’ll also have the option, on the Settings screen, to have the phone enter either “Do Not Disturb” or Android Auto mode automatically when you’re driving.

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What about Android Auto on Android 10?

For any phone running Android 10, there’s no need to download the Android Auto app if all you want it to do is link to your car’s display, as it is already baked into the operating system. If you want to use it on your phone, though, you’ll need to download Android Auto for Phone Screens, which you can get here.

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