Staying Connected While at the Wheel: Staying Alive is Better

June 13, 2013, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

Tech enhancements in automobiles aren’t new.  The past so many years have brought before us many a technological addition to our dashboards. Things have progressed at such a great pace that these days almost every automobile manufacturer is trying to add voice recognition system in their vehicles.

Every other high-tech firm and car maker are offering such capabilities. Tech majors like Apple have also played to the tarmac music with new apps and tech systems that would fit in with car owners’ sentiments and needs.

If you would remember, Cupertino’s engineers recently showed off iOS enabled tech systems in cars as part of its new OS reveal. Further, Microsoft already offers its own car system named SYNC.

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But then, the question remains as to whether these hands-free systems are really a better alternative to cell phones? Okay, before we try and find out an answer, we need to bear in mind the big noise created against cell phone use while driving.

Take a look at the study recently conducted by AAA’s Foundation for Highway Safety, for instance. The findings suggest that such hands-free communication systems are actually more distracting than usual handheld phones!

If it is true, you needn’t wonder much as to what in the near future is going to be a major concern and challenge for many automobile firms.

Although these hands-free devices  let users to send text messages and emails without holding a cell phone in their hands, they create a significant cognitive distraction, according to the researchers.

And, significantly, during hands-free communication, people’s brains are so busy interacting with the system that their ability to respond towards a sudden situation are impaired –  even with hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

The research also tells us that distracted drivers check their mirrors less frequently and thus fail to notice hazards that are not directly in front of them.

The team of AAA compared drivers’ performance during various distractions, and used eye-scanning technology to determine their focus and attention. They also tested reaction time to visual cues, such as brake lights.

Going by what AAA spokeswoman Yolanda Cade suggests, though such innovations are meant to reduce distracted driving and road accidents, they do just the opposite. She adds that studies indicate that half of Americans believe that built-in web-based systems in vehicles are risk free.

According to a report quoting Chris Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety, the study’s result is a warning for motorists. Until now, around 9 million cars are now fitted with voice-recognition systems, and this number is expected to increase to 62 million by 2018.

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In January 2013, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety had reported that almost 35 percent of drivers admitted to reading an email or text while driving, while over 26 percent admitted typing text messages.

Last year, the U.S. National Safety Council reported that around 24 percent of road accidents in the United States involved the use of cell phones while at the wheel.

Don’t think car makers are ready to swallow these findings at one go. Automobile manufacturers, in retort, insist that such technologies are safer. Many like Gloria Bergquist, vice president for public affairs at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington, believe that people want to be connected even in their vehicles.

Well, it is true that in this fast blazing tech world, everyone wants to be connected wherever they are. But do we really need to risk our lives to achieve such facilities? At least, let’s drive when we drive. A tech-enabled life and driving needn’t be tied together. Tell us your take on this, guys!

Find the full study here.

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