AAA: Hands-Free Texting Not The Same As Distraction-Free

Tuesday, July 11, 2017, AM | Leave Comment

With the wave of awareness efforts and education-focused campaigns about the safety risks of distracted driving, it was inevitable that the technology industry would begin to introduce alternative options such as hands-free text messaging and solutions for similar types of digital communication.

However, it was far less predictable that these forms of communication would eventually prove to be just as deadly for drivers on American roadways.

In a study conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA), researchers surprisingly discovered that using voice dictation for sending text messages and emails from behind the wheel is actually just as distracting – if not more distracting – as talking on a cell phone is, and does not significantly reduce the chances of being injured or killed in a car accident.

  • Hands-Free Texting: A Marketing Dream for Manufacturers

    Hands-free text messaging and voice technology that is becoming more and more common in new cars and trucks is currently being touted as an exciting new safety feature that makes driving both simpler and safer for everyone on the road.

    Car and truck manufacturers have positioned voice dictation as a key selling point, and many television commercials are centered around showcasing a vehicle’s intelligence and ability to truly understand a variety voice commands.

    At first glance, the concept of making voice commands to control a computer without having to take your eyes off of the roadway seems logically sound.

    But according to the researchers, the mental capacity required for executing standard voice commands for hands-free texting is just as distracting as talking while holding a cell phone to your ear.

    And since the mental bandwidth is the same, the level of driver distraction is likely the same as well.

    In the summary of their findings, researchers further explained that speech-to-text systems can actually require a higher level of concentration than other traditional distracting behaviors like talking on a cell phone or listening to books on tape.

  • How ‘Tunnel Vision’ Plays Into Distracted Driving

    Traffic safety researchers have long believed that when a higher level of concentration is required by a driver in order to perform a given task, the driver’s chances of becoming inattentive – also called ‘tunnel vision’
    or ‘inattention blindness’ – increases significantly.

    This makes it extremely difficult for motorists to perform regular tasks such as surveying the roadway for obstacles or checking rear-view mirrors.

    “People aren’t seeing what they need to see to drive. That’s the scariest part to me,” says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

    “Police accident investigative reports are filled with comments like the ‘looked, but did not see.’ That’s what drivers tell them.

    We used to think they were lying, but now we know that’s actually true.”

    Data shows that there are an estimated 9 million cars and trucks on the road with ‘infotainment’ systems – a term usually used to describe on-board computer systems with entertainment systems and internet connections.

    These systems allow drivers to utilize hands-free texting, among other forms of entertainment.

    However, what’s important about these vehicles is that AAA estimates there will be around 62 million of them actively traveling on American roadways by the year 2018.

There are multiple studies that have been conducted on the issue of hands-free texting and communications systems, and some of the results of these studies are conflicting.

Many experts contend that the inconsistencies are a result of a lack of data, and that more time and research will paint a clearer picture of just how safe hands-free texting and driving is.

But the bottom line is that doing anything behind the wheel besides driving requires does limit drivers’ attention at least to some extent.

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