2013
02.19

Regardless of how many times we say it, the deadly outcomes associates with distracted driving are not stopping consumers from using their electronic devices while behind the wheel. The numbers just keep on a reaching such staggering and epidemic levels, that I am not surprised that one California legislator is putting on the brakes, literally, when it comes to any form of electronic communication behind the wheel. New research published in 2012 shows that the increase in cognitive load and decrease in working memory when talking or texting while driving increases crash risk significantly.

Citing more than 5,400 deaths (15 per day) and about half a million injuries (1,200 per day) every year, Assembly member Jim Frazier, (D-Oakley) has introduced Assembly Bill 313 banning all voice-activated and all hands-free texting. This is pretty big stuff if you are keeping tabs on what is happening with in-car technology. Frazier also points to those killed or injured in these crashes, nearly 1,000 deaths and 24,000 injuries included cellphone use as the major distraction. Up until now, in-vehicle automobile apps focused on music, navigation, diagnostics, and news. However, the next generation of car apps that we all keep talking about are providing services such as taking some of cognitive lead off the driver, which might be good, but other apps, allow for texting and voice-activated commands, which is exactly what has caught Frazier’s attention these days.

Current state law allows drivers to send and receive text messages or emails while driving so long as they communicate through a hands-free or voice-operated system. In short, what this basically means is that the in-car tech we talk about everyday here at the Connected World magazine would be banned in California. Until recently, automakers did a pretty darn good job of convincing a lot of people that holding a mobile device and texting was the biggest culprit in aiding in distracted driving.

The carriers might not have liked the claim, but they figured the best way to get around all this noise was to join the automakers and provide in-dash systems that provide all the bells and whistles you can imagine. At the same time, I think car companies, should be commended for making a pretty convincing case—until now that is—that voice-activated commands shouldn’t be held under the same scrutiny. Most automakers claim that sending or receiving text messages via hands-free devices can be liken to just having a friendly conversation in a vehicle, while others compare that to a heated argument and that is where the rubber meets the road on when, where, and what causes distracted driving.

Under his proposal Frazier says all drivers should be focused on the road ahead. In fact, he is now proposing even a more stringent set of regulations that just might cause the carmakers to push the panic button.

Frazier is saying drivers are 23 times more likely to be in a wreck if they text while driving. Despite all the campaigns and all the educational efforts, motorists appear to be texting and talking on cellphones more than ever.

Even outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood campaigned diligently to keep our roads safer knowing the hazards of distracted driving; but even he stopped at the point of allowing voice-commands and hands-free communication. 

Now a Virginia Tech study indicates that voice-activated texting, designed to allow drivers to keep both hands on the wheel, may actually be just as dangerous as texting on a handheld cellphone while behind the wheel. The study found voice-controlled texting resulted in higher mental demand and more frequent, longer glances away from the roadway.

Richard Harkness, psychologist and traffic-safety researcher stresses that texting while driving – whether handsfree or handheld – poses a significant increase in crash risk. He even says estimates of drivers who are texting have an 8-22% greater risk of car crashes.

What I have to wonder now is how will this latest research impact all the investments and time being already spent on the connected car, and how will consumers react upon hearing these results, or will they even care? They haven’t stopped texting yet behind the wheel.

Even The National Safety Council has voiced its support for banning the use of voice-operated systems that write, send, and read text messages and emails while driving. The NSC says even voice-activated technologies can still be distracting to motorists and unless there is evidence to the contrary it can’t justify legalizing the use of voice-to-text technologies.

According to the legislation, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, which, at 60 miles per hour, is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blind. It only takes a split second.

I guess the real question remains,is receiving or sending a text message while driving really worth injuring another person?

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