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New research sponsored by AAA shows that hands-free technology for calling, texting and sending e-mail while driving may be more risky than many believed. Voice-activated systems for receiving and composing email was particularly dangerous.
USA Today's Larry Copeland reported, "The increasingly popular voice-activated, in-car technologies that allow drivers to text, talk on the phone or even use Facebook while driving still allow for dangerous mental distraction, according to a study. In the most comprehensive study of its kind to look at drivers' mental distraction, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that as mental workload and distractions increase, reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, and drivers scan the road less and miss visual clues, researchers say. This could potentially result in drivers being unable to see items right in front of them, such as stop signs or pedestrians."
PCMag's Angela Moscaritolo explained, "In the study, researchers measured drivers' brainwaves and eye movements to see what happened when they performed different tasks, such as listening to the radio and talking on the phone while behind the wheel. They found that listening to the radio ranked as a 'minimal' distraction, while talking on a cell phone, both handheld and hands-free, was a 'moderate' risk. On the other hand, the researchers found that using voice-activated systems to send and receive email posed an 'extensive' safety risk."
The Los Angeles Times quoted the report, which said, "The assumption that … voice-based interactions would be safe appears to be unwarranted. Simply put, hands-free does not mean risk-free."
According to Matt Richtel and Bill Vlasic with The New York Times, "[Researcher David] Strayer said that the reason for the heavy load created by the technology was not totally clear. One reason appears to be the amount of effort required to talk to the dashboard, which is greater than talking to a person, who can interrupt and ask for clarification. With a passenger or even on a phone, the other person says 'wait, wait, I didn’t understand,' Mr. Strayer said. 'That stuff is gone when you’re trying to compose an e-mail. You have to get your thought in order and lay it out in order.'"