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Research reveals hands-free technology may not stop driver distraction

Hands-free devices and in-car systems are often seen as safe alternatives to distracted driving, but research suggests these systems are still dangerous.

Many drivers in Springfield see advanced hands-free devices, apps and in-car systems as the solution to the growing danger of distracted driving. By allowing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, these devices purportedly reduce distraction and the risk of related accidents, such as side-impact and rear-end collisions. Alarmingly, though, new research suggests that, contrary to popular belief, this technology is still far too distracting.

Troubling study findings

Researchers from the University of Utah and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently ranked the level of distraction associated with six hands-free in-car infotainment systems and one cellphone voice system. According to Fox News, researchers observed participants driving supervised through a neighborhood, performing a driving simulation and completing laboratory tests while using the devices. Researchers then ranked the associated level of distraction.

The cellphone voice system and four of the six in-vehicle systems tested were rated more distracting than a conversation via handheld or hands-free cellphone. The level of distraction associated with some of these systems was significant. For instance, when using the cellphone voice system during a simulation, two participants crashed into other vehicles. Another participant became seriously distracted when he had to hurry to terminate a 911 call that the same system placed in error.

Complex, demanding systems

There are a few factors that may make these systems dangerously distracting, even though they are intended to reduce driver inattention. These factors include:

  • Lack of oversight – At present, in-car infotainment systems are largely unregulated, so the safety of different systems is not guaranteed.
  • Complex nature of systems – Many of these systems are cognitively demanding, requiring drivers to focus carefully on word choice and phrasing.
  • Ongoing development of technology – Many of the systems also require further development or refinement, as they are currently prone to errors.

All of these issues could be improved in time, but at present, the widespread use of these systems is cause for concern. In 2013, CBS News reported that the number of infotainment-equipped vehicles in use in America was expected to increase from 9 million to about 62 million by 2018. Experts have expressed concerns about the safety impacts of this change, as it could lead to even more accidents involving distracted drivers. The recent study findings support this concern.

Distracted driving accidents

No states have banned adults from using hands-free devices and in-car systems. In Missouri, adults are even permitted to text and use handheld cellphones while driving. Still, compensation may be available to people who have been injured because other drivers were distracted.

Drivers always owe a duty of care to other road users. When drivers breach this duty and cause someone else injury, they may be considered negligent, even if they were engaging in a behavior that is not specifically banned under state law. Anyone who has been hurt because of another driver’s inattention or carelessness should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss the possibility of pursuing compensation.

Keywords: distracted, driving, accident, injury


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