Automakers have been walking on a tightrope these days. Much as they want to introduce new features that could make driving more productive and enjoyable and satisfy the clamor of tech-savvy individuals, they also have to make sure that these new technologies won’t be dangerously distracting.
Statistics show that in 2011 alone, there were 3,331 recorded fatalities and injuries due to accidents involving distracted drivers. Also, AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index reveals that every year, 80% of drivers say that distraction is a serious problem and a behavior that make them feel less safe on the road.
These facts make distracted driving a great concern not only to the U.S. DOT and the agencies under it, such as the NHTSA and FHWA, but also for automakers because they are the ones that have the power to incorporate in-car features that can help minimize the odds of drivers taking their eyes and attention off the road to do non-driving activities.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is doing anything that can take your focus away from the main task of driving. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention points out three main types of driving distractions:
- Visual – distractions that take your eyes off the road
- Manual – anything that make you take your hands off the steering wheel
- Cognitive – activities that take your mind away from driving
Among the most dangerous distracted driving habits are:
- Texting and talking on the phone
- Eating and drinking
- Checking roadside diversions
- Driving while dozy
- Paying attention to the kids or to pets
- Watching a video
- Adjusting radio or music players
- Using a cell phone or smartphone for other activities, such as updating social media
- Fiddling with the navigation system and other entertainment and on-board electronics
Distraction.gov points out that texting is by far the most alarming distraction because it involves the driver’s visual, manual, as well as cognitive attention. This is why most of the features added by automakers to newer vehicles are related to hands-free phone use.
What the automakers are doing
According to Auto News, Anupam Malhotra, senior connected-vehicle manager at Audi of America, says that what they are focusing on right now is to “incentivize drivers to not handle devices when they are in the car.” Here are some of the new technologies that can help prevent drivers from taking their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road:
Chevrolet’s entertainment and communications system with 7 inches color touch-screen display allows users to connect devices like USB drives, compatible smartphones, MP3 players, iPods, and Bluetooth-enabled devices to enjoy the kind of entertainment they need while driving using voice-recognition technology. Yes, drivers can now play and manage their mp3 playlist, turn on the radio and adjust its settings, and do hands-free calling—all with simple voice commands. This will reduce distraction because the driver need not handle the device directly to access something or adjust its features. MyLink is now available on 2013 Chevy Malibu, Equinox, Cruze, Camaro, and Volt.
With this feature, drivers can now listen to their text messages with Voice Text Reply or dictate and send text messages via Voice Texting, so they need not their your phone to read and reply to text messages. This feature can be used on smartphones with Bluetooth Message Access Profile (MAP) and Uconnect Access subscription. Through its unique blend of touchscreen, steering wheel controls, voice commands, clear displays, as well as familiar easy-to-access knobs and buttons, users can have access to the information and entertainment you want, without taking their focus off of driving. The Uconnect feature is now available on 2013 Dodge Dart and 2013 Ram 1500, and will make its Fiat debut on 2014 Fiat 500L and 500L Trekking models.
- 4G LTE
GM has teamed up with AT&T in incorporating built-in 4G LTE structure designed for in-vehicle use. This feature will provide mobile data that’s 10 times faster than 3G technologies, improved responsiveness, as well as the ability to support simultaneous voice and data connections. With the 4G LTE, drivers no longer need their smartphone to use connected services while driving; they now have the option to either bring in and connect their mobile device to the 4G LTE structure or use this feature as the vehicle’s own mobile device. The first GM vehicles that will be outfitted with this technology are most 2015 Buick, Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac models.
- Dragon Drive Messaging
According to the Wall Street Journal, BMW’s 2012 versions of the 7 Series and 3 Series Touring and ActiveHybrid models now have access to the high-end speech-dictation software, which pairs with the driver’s compatible smartphone to make text-message dictation possible. Called Dragon Drive Messaging, this software is sophisticated enough that the driver can format emails and text messages and dictate the type of punctuations to be used, new lines and paragraphs, as well as other formatting commands. It works with U.S. English, British-accented English, Italian, French, German, and Spanish. Aside from messaging, this platform also allows the driver to issue other commands like calling specific contact or navigating address.
“Hands-free isn’t risk-free”- AAA
Most of these innovations aim to reduce the time the driver takes his hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, and attention off of driving by making it easy for them to text, send emails, talk on the phone, or play their favorite tunes while driving. However, a recent study conducted by the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety doubts the effectiveness of hands-free devices and technologies in ensuring driving safety. The research reveals that as mental workloads and distractions increase, the driver’s reaction time slows and the brain function is compromised. Based on the findings of its research team, here are AAA’s recommendations to the automotive and electronics industries:
- Limit the use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities such as climate control, windshield wipers and cruise control, and ensure these applications do not lead to increased safety risk due to mental distraction while the car is moving.
- Disable certain functionalities of voice-to-text technologies such as using social media or interacting with e-mail and text messages so that they are inoperable while the vehicle is in motion.
- Educate vehicle owners and mobile device users about the responsible use and safety risks for in-vehicle technologies.
Regardless if these new vehicle systems help increase highway safety or they are potentially dangerous distractions inside the vehicle, the best way to end or at least minimize accidents caused by distracted driving, is to educate drivers about the danger it may cause.
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