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Thumbs down: Study says hands-free components are distracting, too

Jun. 18, 2013 @ 10:45 PM

Many of us spend a lot of time in our vehicles and strive to make more productive use of that time.

So, new technology that allows us to text, e-mail and complete other tasks through voice commands has a lot of appeal. These dashboard "infotainment" systems in many new vehicles allow drivers to take care of a lot of business without ever taking their hands off the wheel.

But a recent study concludes all that new activity can be just as distracting as hand-held devices, primarily because of the amount of concentration required.

The researchers tested the speech-to-text functions as well as other potential distracting activities such as talking to a passenger, listening to a book on tape or listening to the radio. They concluded that interacting with a computer takes greater thought and precision than the other activities. With that greater level of concentration, the driver is more likely to develop a sort of "tunnel vision," where they stop scanning the roadway or their side and rearview mirrors.

"People aren't seeing what they need to see to drive. That's the scariest part to me," Peter Kissinger of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety told The Associated Press. "Police accident investigative reports are filled with comments like they '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."

The AAA and the National Safety Council are encouraging the automobile industry to rethink all the dashboard devices and stick to tools focused on "core driving tasks." Auto manufactures are not so sure about that and maintain "hands-free" technologies are the better approach.

But we know from our own lives that anything that takes a driver's focus off the road -- from a spilled drink to an argument with a passenger -- can cause an accident. Motorists should be cautious about taking on too many distractions with these new technologies. Our first job is to drive safely.

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