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Auto manufacturers who are looking to find a solution for frustrated drivers who don’t want to holster their hand-held communication devices while driving are designing cars using new technology that allows drivers to text with little to no use of their hands. This “hands-free” technology allows drivers to hear messages read aloud by an onboard computer and offers a preset or recorded and transcribed response from the driver.
But, will this technology really solve the problem and decrease the level of driver distraction and car accidents?
HAND-HELD VERSUS HANDS-FREE
Though long-term studies on the topic of hands-free texting while driving have yet to be published, the answer can be logically surmised by looking at other models of distracted driving.
What we do know is that nearly 3,000 people were killed and another 900,000 were involved in car accidents last year, all as a result of distracted driving. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.”
While these statistics clearly denounce using hand-held devices while driving, the idea of using hands-free technology is still largely up in the air.
Currently, distracted driving is a factor in one out of four car accidents in Minnesota, according to Minnesota State Police. In 2008, a ban on texting and Internet use while driving became law. In addition, cell phone use while driving is currently banned for underage drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses.
Nationwide, 35 states have outlawed the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, but the wording of these laws may leave room for hands-free devices.
IS NEWER HANDS-FREE TECHNOLOGY THE KEY?
Something that the auto makers may be missing is that, just because a driver does not take his or her eyes off the road or hands off the wheel, that does not mean that he or she is not distracted.
The National Safety Council (NSC) argues that just talking on a phone is distracting, whether it’s hands-free or not. Citing a phenomenon called “inattention blindness” (where a driver can look at an object but not really see it, making it easy to miss traffic signs and signals as well as exits and turns), the NSC says that having a phone conversation can force a driver’s brain to multi-task, switching back and forth between the two very different tasks. This multi-tasking creates a distracted state of driving.
Other recently released studies like those by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) point to mounting evidence that driver distraction exists whether the phone is in the hand or not. Because of this evidence, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently called for a nationwide ban on driver use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) while operating a motor vehicle.
Those safety recommendations specifically call for a 50 state and the District of Columbia ban on the non-emergency use of PEDs for all drivers. According to the NTSB, the safety recommendation also urges use of the NHTSA model of high-visibility enforcement to support these bans and the implementation of targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and heightened enforcement.
As former NTSB Chairman and CBS News Transportation Safety Consultant, Mark Rosenker, explained on CBS News’ The Early Show, “it’s going to be a long haul” before we ever see this NTSB recommendation become law across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. “It has now left the NTSB and has been put in the laps of the 50 state legislators,” said Rosenker, “When you get into the legislative process, it becomes a political process.”
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