Hands-free tech

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Research: Hand-free tech more distracting than many drivers realize

Hands-free apps and in-car technology, which Arkansas drivers can legally use, may be just as distracting as directly texting and talking on cellphones.

In recent years, Arkansas has taken various steps to address the threat of distracted driving, as many people in Fayetteville know. All drivers are banned from texting, and those between ages 18 and 20 cannot use handheld cellphones. However, recent research suggests these measures may not be enough to protect drivers against distraction-related accidents. Like many states, Arkansas allows all drivers to use hands-free technology, even though research suggests it may be too distracting.
Unacceptable levels of distraction
The results of two complementary studies published in 2014 called attention to the risks of hands-free technology. One study tested six in-car infotainment systems, while the other focused on the personal assistant app Siri. Researchers monitored 162 participants as they took lab tests, did driving simulations and drove through a neighborhood under close supervision.

The level of distraction that each driver experienced was rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 marking the most severe. Alarmingly, the researchers found that four of the in-vehicle systems tested, along with Siri, were significantly more demanding than talking on a handheld cellphone, which is already a dangerously distracting activity. During the driving simulation, two participants even collided with other vehicles while using Siri.
Reasons for poor performance
A few factors may explain why these systems seem to promote distracted driving instead of preventing it. First, many of the systems tested during the two studies were error-prone. Researchers observed the following types of issues:
  • Lack of understanding - some systems would not process a driver's instructions unless the driver's wording was exactly right.
  • Frustrating minor errors - some systems also made small errors, such as incorrectly transcribing text messages.
  • More distracting errors - the researchers also saw errors that demanded significant levels of attention from drivers; for instance, one driver had to hurry to terminate a 911 call that Siri mistakenly placed.
In many cases, the systems were distracting because drivers had to focus so carefully on choosing their phrasing or correcting errors. However, other research suggests that even the most carefully designed and user-friendly systems might still create dangerous levels of distraction.

The National Safety Council explains that many aspects of voice-based technology are inherently distracting. Studies show that using voice-to-text technology can be more distracting than physically typing out texts. The act of listening to language can impair driving ability by reducing activity in the region of the brain that interprets moving images. Furthermore, any attempt at multitasking simply forces the brain to juggle tasks, which results in reduced performance at each task.
Holding distracted drivers accountable
Sadly, accidents involving these purportedly "safe" forms of distracted driving may affect many people in Arkansas. The victims of these distraction-related accidents may benefit from seeking legal guidance. An attorney may be able to offer advice on whether another driver's actions represented a legal violation or negligence.

Keywords: distracted, driving, texting, accident
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