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Six Ways to Use Android Auto and Apple CarPlay Safely You May Be Missing

In our second how-to story on using these great device integration apps, we focus on hands-free functionality to reduce distraction.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are easy to use apps that allow you to integrate your smart device (phone) seamlessly with the vehicle in which you are traveling. If you have not used it before and want to try it out, start with our tutorial on how to connect. In this story, we will focus on how you can use these systems without lifting a finger or taking your eyes off the road to accomplish some common and helpful tasks. For our example, we will use Android Auto, Google Maps, and Pandora as examples, but you will find that CarPlay, Maps, and Spotify work in the same fashion. Here are some things you should try out during your next drive.

Related Story: Shopping For A New Vehicle - Be Sure It Has This Feature Or It Will Be Obsolete In 1 Year

Before we begin, be advised that distracted driving is no joke. We take attention to the road and a focus on driving very seriously. Which is exactly why we promote the use of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A study by AAA found that these systems create less distraction than native manufacturer-supplied infotainment systems.

Tip One – Use the Google Assistant or the Speak To Command Button
If you have a Google device or Alexa at home, you already know how to give commands to a device. You simply say the keyword and then tell the device what you want done. In a vehicle, it works the same way. You can simply say, “OK Google” to get started, or use the steering wheel-mounted speak to command button. I use both, but in the car, I generally start by pressing and holding the command button. This tells the vehicle and Android Auto you are about to speak, and it silences the audio in the vehicle.

Tip Two – Speak To Enter An Address To Navigate To
If you are still typing in addresses to any navigation system, please save yourself the hassle and distraction. Hit the speak to command button and say, as an example, “Navigate to 10 Main Street Boston Mass.” Android Auto and Google Maps will hear your command and say back to you, “OK. Navigate to …” and the address will be placed into the navigation of Google Maps. You never need to move your hand off of the steering wheel, nor do you need to take your eyes off the road. If you change your mind, and wish to change the location to which you are heading, simply add an update in the same fashion.

If you are far away from a destination you already know how to get to and just want to enjoy Google’s traffic alerts and re-routing around accidents and traffic, simply ask Google to take you to the town or city or general area you are going to. Unlike with the navigation systems in older cars, you don’t need an exact destination to use Google Maps. We find this very helpful when we know we will make a rest-stop along the way. We may say, “Navigate to Next Rest Area On This Route.” And once we have made our stop for vehicle charging or a bathroom break, we will reset the navigation once we are underway. This is a great way to help answer the kids’ questions from the backseat of “How Much Longer!?”

Tip Three – Find A New Route
When you are using Google Maps, you may notice that along your route on the map, Google constantly shows you a grey route option and a note on how much time that route will add to your travel time. For example, you will see an upcoming exit or turn, and Google Maps will Display “+6 minutes.” This should be obvious, but what Google Maps is saying is that if you take that turn, the route will be six minutes longer. So why would you? One reason is to avoid the bummer parts of a drive you already know. Maybe that difficult intersection where you always feel unsafe pulling out in to oncoming traffic from a stop sign. Or maybe an annoying stretch with five redlights separated by 20 yards each. If you opt to try this suggested route, you need not do anything to continue your navigation. Google will note your turn and reset the route automagically. Some routes are equal in duration, and some have no tolls, or add a toll. That Google Maps display can be very handy if you know what it is offering you.

Bonus Tip – Do You Really Need Waze To Know About Speed Traps?
One feature that Waze popularized was police speedtrap alerts. Did you know that Google Maps now also offers speedtrap warnings? We find them to be very accurate. Waze still has an overall edge on other hazards, but we suspect that Google Maps will soon adopt potholes, vehicles stopped on the shoulder, and other Waze-type alerts as well. Google has always had accident location warnings, but we also expect that Google will soon add a notice telling you which lane is blocked.

Tip Four – Find Coffee!
A coffee addiction is my last vice. Maybe it’s yours too? If so, when you are using Google Maps, you can find options along your route. Simply speak the commands in the same fashion we outlined above. Try, “Find the nearest Starbucks.” You will be surprised how easily this works. And Google is smart. If a Starbucks is a bad route option, it will show you other brands closer.

Tip Five – Play Different Music
I use Pandora mainly because I was an early adopter, and now I have Pandora stations, playlists, and artist lists that I have shaped to my needs and my family’s preferences. With so many stations from which to choose, selecting one using the touchscreen can be distracting. So I don’t. Again, speak the command. Try, “Pandora play music by Dua Lipa.” Or whatever artist you wish to hear at that time. Or ask Android Auto and Pandora to choose from your pre-set stations. Once you have the music started, you can, of course, use the steering wheel buttons to increase the volume, mute, or decrease the volume, or advance to the next track. Your eyes stay on the road, and your hands never leave the wheel.

Tip Six – Texting
We feel that texting is a distraction. However, it is possible to receive simple messages using almost any mobile device and almost all modern vehicles. When you get an incoming message, ignore it. That’s our advice. However, if you are going to listen anyway you can also reply quite simply. Google will play the message and then ask, “Do you want to reply?” If so, say “yes.” Google will say, “OK, what’s the message?” You then simply speak. Google will play it back to you to ensure it is heard accurately. You can do more with hands-free texting if you wish, but we’ll leave you at this spot since it is not our policy to drive distracted.

Tip Seven – Phone Calls
You don’t need Google, Android, or Apple to make a hands-free call in your vehicle if your device is connected either by an app or via Bluetooth. However, in case you are not already doing so, here are the steps. Press the speak to command button. Say, “Phone Joe Smith Mobile.” The Google Assistant will speak that command back to you and say, “Ok.” The phone call begins. To hang up, simply use the steering wheel-mounted hang-up button. Never – ever – dial a phone manually while driving.

An expansion of this idea is to ask Google to call a place that is not in your phone book. Here you will need an app like Android Auto to help. Let’s say you want to pick up a pizza on your way home from work. You know the name of the place, but not the number. Simply use the command button and say, “Call Town Pizza in Wilmington,” or whatever the name and place is called. Google will use the browser to locate that business and dial for you.

If you use your phone for all of these tasks already, that’s great. Maybe you have a few tips to suggest in the comments below that we can use to form a new story? If you have not tried these simple ways to accomplish easy and common tasks without moving your hands from the wheel or your eyes from the road, give them a try. We strongly suggest you attempt these tips while parked until they are second nature to you. Even an occupied mind can be a distraction.

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. Following his engineering program, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin