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Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Hands-free" isn't necessarily "risk free"

A new study from the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety indicates that while some "hands-free" technologies may make it easier for drivers to text, talk on the phone, or use applications like Facebook or email while they drive - that such activity can cause "dangerous mental distractions"; even if drivers are keeping their hands on the wheel of the vehicle.

In a report by FleetOwner - Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, endorsed AAA’s position, saying OEMs should reconsider the inclusion of communications and entertainment technology built into vehicles that allow, or even encourage, the driver to engage in these activities at the expense of focusing on driving. “Auto crashes are the leading cause of death for everyone between five and 35 years old in the U.S.,” she added. “About 100 people die every day on our nation's roads. And the number one cause of car crashes is human error and driver distraction is the top human error. Based on this new research and many earlier studies, it is irresponsible to permit, enable and even encourage non-driving related activities that divert a driver's attention from the task of driving.”

Dr. David Strayer and a research team from the University of Utah conducted the "cognitive distraction" study for the AAA.  His team categorized the mental distraction as follows:

  • Tasks such as listening to the radio ranked as a category “1” level of distraction or a minimal risk.
  • Talking on a cell-phone, both handheld and hands-free, resulted in a “2” or a moderate risk.
  • Listening and responding to in-vehicle, voice-activated email features increased mental workload and distraction levels of the drivers to a “3” rating or one of extensive risk.

As a result of the study AAA is formulating some suggested policies on "hands-free" technologies:

  • Limiting use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities such as climate control, windshield wipers and cruise control, and to ensure these applications do not lead to increased safety risk due to mental distraction while the car is moving.
  • Disabling certain voice-to-text technologies, such as social media e-mail and text messages, when the vehicle is in motion.