Hands-Free Devices Making Distracted Driving Worse

Despite widespread laws allowing drivers to use hands-free systems in their cars, several new studies have found that these are actually making distracted driving worse. Legislatures have touted voice-activated smartphones as better and safer alternatives despite any clear evidence to their point. Now, it is becoming increasingly clear that these are far from a safer option. Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight these new studies and the true consequences of distracted driving.

Voice-activated smartphones and “smart cars” with dashboard infotainment systems are the new normal for drivers. These devices, which allow drivers to do anything from changing radio stations to calling friends without using their hands, have long been touted for letting drivers keep their eyes on the road, promoting the idea that they are less distracting. The truth is, anything that distracts you from driving is dangerous, even if it does not require your hands.

The new studies confirming this were conducted by the University of Utah and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The AAA study analyzed infotainment systems in five of the country’s most common automobiles, and the Utah study tested iPhone’s and Google’s hands-free navigation, texting, calendar and social media capabilities.

Utah researchers graded voice-activation systems on a distraction scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning no distraction at all. Both Google and Apple’s systems were tested in three settings: while driving through Salt Lake City neighborhoods, in a driving simulator, and in a laboratory. During the tests using Apple’s Siri, the test drivers rear-ended another car twice, causing it to receive the worst rating of 4.14.

In a statement, Apple asserted that Utah researchers used only the traditional Siri instead of Siri Eyes Free or CarPlay, which the company designed specifically for car use.

In AAA’s study Chevrolet’s MyLink system received the worst rating – 3.7 – among the five tested. The other three vehicle systems tested were in Mercedes, Chrysler and Ford. All three infotainment systems were found to be more distracting to drivers than hand-held cell phones. Toyota’s Entune system received the best rating, 1.7, which is similar to listening to an audiobook.

The systems were largely ineffective because they made so many errors, causing drivers to concentrate on correcting the mistakes. This was despite concerted efforts to speak clearly and distinctly. For example, if a driver wanted to change the radio system, they would need to state that desire in a specific way, saying “1390 AM” out loud, or any variation on that statement, like “1390 AM” or just “1390.” This understandably creates a great deal of frustration and ultimately distraction.

Similarly, when creating texts or trying to place calls, the messages and commands often came out incorrect or nonsensical. During one test, Siri called 911 instead of the number the driver wanted, causing an immense distraction. Trying to dictate more complex demands only further worsened driving behavior.

Automakers Deny, Consumers Believe

Automakers routinely state that consumers are pushing forward the demand for infotainment systems and require their newer cars to include technology that will allow them to access their music and contacts through voice-activation. A Chevrolet spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times that they are focusing now on innovative ways to provide this level of technology, so drivers can safely enjoy social media and other features.

Safety advocates see right through this, and these new studies will help to confirm their points. Although automakers claim such systems are safe, they remain largely unregulated. In efforts to increase road safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released guidelines that would finally regulate infotainment systems. The NHTSA is also working on guidelines for cellphone companies.

The president of the National Safety Council likened these new infotainment systems to the “Wild Wild West,” where drivers are like guinea pigs for new technologies. Drivers should be aware of studies like this when buying new cars, to see if the infotainment systems are well-designed and will not serve only as a distraction.

Our team of auto accident attorneys helps those injured in crashes caused by negligent or distracted drivers. We do all the work for you, dealing with insurance companies and handling medical bills, so you can focus on getting back on track. If you have any questions, or if you were involved in a serious crash and want to know more about your legal options, contact our firm today for a free consultation. We take clients from all 50 states.

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