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August 2013

Think You Know All ABout Distracted Driving?

Think Again, Says AAA

By NWREporter

August 2013

Think You Know All About Distracted Driving? Think Again, Says AAA

Voice-activated in-car technologies dangerously undermine driver attention, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Hands-free technologies might make it easier for motorists to text, talk on the phone or even use Facebook while driving, but hands-free is not risk-free, AAA researchers emphasize.

The study indicates that as mental workload and distractions increase, reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues, potentially resulting in drivers not seeing items right in front of them -- including stop signs and pedestrians.

AAA officials said this is the most comprehensive study of its kind. Considering predictions of a five-fold increase in infotainment systems in new vehicles by 2018, AAA is calling for action to curb the use of voice-to-text features while a vehicle is in motion.

"There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies," said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. "It's time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free."

Cognitive distraction expert Dr. David Strayer and his research team at the University of Utah measured brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to assess what happens to drivers' mental workload when they attempt to do multiple things at once, building upon decades of research in the aerospace and automotive industries.

"These findings reinforce previous research that hands-free is not risk-free," said AAA Foundation president and CEO Peter Kissinger. "Increased mental workload and cognitive distractions can lead to a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness where motorists don't see potential hazards right in front of them."

Based on its latest research, AAA is urging the automotive and electronics industries to collaborate on:

  • 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 functionalities of voice-to-text technologies such as using social media or interacting with e-mail and text messages so that they are inoperable while the vehicle is in motion.
  • Educating vehicle owners and mobile device users about the responsible use and safety risks for in-vehicle technologies.

AAA also is using the findings to promote dialogue with policy makers, safety advocates and industry to ensure that these emerging in-vehicle technologies won't lead to unintentional compromises in public safety.  As part of this effort, AAA has already met with safety advocates and provided copies of the report to CEOs of all major U.S. automakers.

To view the full Cognitive Distraction in the Vehicle report, the AAA Foundation's Research Compendium on Cognitive Distraction or AAA's Distracted Driving Fact Sheet, visit NewsRoom.AAA.com.

AAA, with more than 53 million members, is North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit, publicly-supported charitable, educational and research organization. Established by AAA in 1947, it has funded more than 200 research projects designed to discover the causes of traffic crashes, prevent them, and minimize injuries when they do occur.