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Hands free vehicle systems can still be distracting


The dangers of driving while holding a hand held electronic device are well known. In fact, in an American Automobile Association's Traffic Safety Culture survey, 83 percent of drivers stated that using a cell phone while driving is a serious or extremely serious problem. Still, a Tennessee car accident attorney notes that people seem to be reluctant to put down the phone, in spite of increasing awareness and corresponding penalties.

Automobile manufacturers have worked to create a technological solution so that drivers can be connected without posing risks. As a result, infotainment systems with voice-activated commands are now installed in many new cars. To promote roadway safety, AAA conducted studies to rate the distraction levels caused by these systems.

System effectiveness

AAA researchers measured the cognitive distractions drivers experienced while using six speech-to-text programs. The visual and manual attention was not taken from the road, so any deviation in focus was attributed to the use of the technology. This study confirmed that not all programs are the same, and some interactions may raise the risk for accidentson the roadways.

In a follow-up study, AAA researchers focused on specific tasks undertaken using newer models of voice-activated systems to evaluate drivers' cognitive distraction levels and accident risks. The participants in the study had tasks that included the following:

  • Dial a phone number
  • Call a person in the contacts list
  • Change the station on the radio
  • Play a CD

The mental workload required for each was measured against the same drive while doing a difficult mental math task. The subjects' reaction times, subjective assessments and heart rates were used as indicators, and results showed that drivers experienced some degree of distraction during the use of all voice-activated systems. However, researchers discovered that the workload required to operate the six different systems varied considerably.

According to the study, the safest program allowed users to operate the music and voice dialing with a minimal amount of distraction that did not exceed the baseline significantly. The least successful program was nearly as distracting as the cognitively demanding math task, which may be a source of concern for a Tennessee car accident attorney. Risk factors included how long the interaction took, how many steps the task required, and the number of comprehension errors the driver encountered.

Driver awareness

The research indicates that well designed systems can present lower distraction levels. However, drivers should remember that there is a natural margin of error for individuals who find the voice commands difficult to master. The onboard technology is not typically the primary reason for the vehicle purchase, so drivers may not do the research and discover whether their systems pose serious distractions. The result may lead many drivers to feel more confident in their abilities even while more attention is pulled from the task of driving.

Ultimately, the driver is responsible to focus on the road. If an individual is injured in a collision with a distracted driver, a Tennessee car accident attorney may be able to provide legal representation to hold the inattentive driver liable for damages.

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