National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator David Strickland has called for more research to determine whether the government should impose regulations on hands-free messaging behind the wheel.
Strickland spoke this week in response to a study released by the Automobile Association of America (AAA) that suggested using voice-activated technology while driving an automobile may be more dangerous than using hand-held devices, the Detroit News reports. Automakers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing systems that use voice commands to allow drivers not only to make calls but also send emails and texts while driving. Automakers claim this is safer because drivers can keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. But the AAA study suggests that driver distraction is actually greater with voice-activated technologies because drivers are attempting tasks that require a higher degree of concentration.
Working with researchers from the University of Utah, AAA tested 100 Salt Lake City-area drivers, ages 18 to 36, who spent four hours on the road and in a simulator, according to the Detroit News. The drivers wore special skullcaps to measure their brain function. Cameras and instruments tracked their eye and head movements to see if they were watching their surroundings. Instruments measured response time to traffic lights and objects in the field of vision. The researchers say that drivers involved in distracting tasks develop “inattention blindness.” They stop scanning the road, ignore side and rearview mirrors, and may fail to notice things in front of them, including red lights and pedestrians, according to CBS News.
Jacob Nelson, AAA director traffic safety advocacy and research, said using voice commands to listen to and respond to emails and texts is “fundamentally unsafe to do while driving — more dangerous even from the cognitive or mental aspect than even using a hand-held or hands-free cell phone to have a conversation.”
AAA calculates that 9 million vehicles now on the road are equipped with voice-activated technology and that number is expected to reach more than 62 million by 2018, according to the Detroit News. AAA president and CEO Robert Darbelnet sees a “looming public safety crisis,” especially because of “the common misconception that hands-free means risk-free.”