2013
10.17

On Friday I learned something new about distracted driving from AAA. Audible emails are causing greater distraction than handheld phones. At least that’s what the latest research from AAA reveals. That’s a new one for me. I have been very passionate about educating drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. I have been a strong advocate pleading to listeners and readers about keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

And according to AAA, we all need to understand the inherent dangers of audio fidelity when we are having a discussion about in-vehicle connectivity. I don’t think anyone disagrees that when we are behind the wheel we all need to concentrate on what we are doing, and that means keeping our minds and our eyes on the road and our hands on the wheel. So when I interviewed Justin McNaull the director of state relations from AAA on The Peggy Smedley Radio Show, he made a few pretty convincing arguments that part of the problem with voice-to-text features is fidelity or the lack thereof. The driver needs to think a little harder to say something that’s going to be properly detected by software and turned into verbiage, and there isn’t 100% fidelity with these systems.

AAA’s recent research looked at the cognitive load associated with various activities. The research found that the greatest cognitive load was affected when drivers engaged in voice-driven email.

McNaull stressed once again that distracted driving has become a much higher profile issue in the last five years, partially because of what former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood did while he was in office, and partially because more and more technology is being placed in vehicles. He couldn’t emphasize enough that motorists need to understand driver-distraction risks from a safety advocacy standpoint, and from an equipment design and building standpoint. McNaull is adamant that just because we have our eyes on the road and our hands on the wheel doesn’t mean that OEMs can put whatever they want in their vehicles. Through its research, AAA has been trying to figure out how to accommodate the desire consumers have for technology in their vehicles, while at the same time addressing safety concerns.

Now let’s be clear: That’s not to say managing safety and infotainment systems won’t get there since technology is changing faster than I can say technology, but right now AAA is raising some serious doubt as to whether the technology is ready for prime time. It’s a pretty safe bet the tech companies are not really happy with AAA raising this point, but the real challenge is for the technology geniuses to figure out how to improve the sound quality if this is the road they want to travel, no pun intended. Well okay, it’s a bad pun.

What’s interesting is that AAA wants to make sure voice-driven email technology is incorporated responsibly. What’s more, it wants to work with drivers to ensure the proper use if it is installed into more and more vehicles. He emphasizes that a serious, research-driven discussion is in order. I just wonder how many of the OEMs, carriers, and legislators will get onboard to support AAA’s cry for help in an effort to prevent more car crashes. As screens in automobiles get larger and as driver distraction continues to increase, everything needs to be put into perspective focusing on driver safety, first and foremost.

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