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Hands-free in-car technology is not risk-free

Consumer Reports News: June 12, 2013 06:38 AM

It is clear that taking your eyes off the road while driving is dangerous and distracting, but are hands-free technologies that make it easier to text and talk distracting, as well? A new report finds that even with both hands on the wheel, mental distractions can dangerously undermine a driver's attention.

The study found that even when a driver's hands are on the wheel, reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, and drivers miss visual cues on the road when using voice-activated technologies.

Partnered with the AAA Foundation, researchers at the University of Utah measured brainwaves, eye movement, and reaction time to evaluate a driver's mental workload as they tried to multitask behind the wheel. The methodology borrowed from the established science of aviation psychology to study the mental load for performing a range of in-car activities.

The results were ranked on a scale of mental distraction, ranging from 1 to 3. The task of listening to the radio is defined as a category "1" with a minimal risk. Talking on a cell-phone hands-free or handheld was a "2" or moderate risk and listening, and responding to in-vehicle voice-activated email features was categorized as a "3" or an extensive risk.

Based on these findings, AAA is appealing to the public to not use voice-to-text features and is concerned about a public crisis as infotainment systems in vehicles are projected to increase five-fold by 2018. They urge the automotive and electronics industries to limit voice-activated technology to only core driving-related functions, such as setting the temperature or cruise control. In addition, they recommend disabling voice-to-text for social media, email, and text messaging while a vehicle is in motion.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently set distracted driving guidelines for automakers to follow when developing their interactive in-car dash systems. The agency is now working on guidelines for connecting and accessing a smart phone and other portable electronic device features in vehicles and using voice-control systems.

For more research and to learn what you can do to be safe behind the wheel, see our special section on distracted driving.

Related:
New research shows what really distracts drivers
Researchers weigh in on the issue of distracted driving
The 2-second rule: Government sets distracted driving guidelines for automakers
Connected cars: A new risk

Liza Barth

   

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