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Safety at Issue in New Hands-Free Technology for Drivers

At least a dozen states ban the use of handheld cellphones while driving. Texting, dialing, emailing, reading and other use of electronic gadgets greatly increase the chances of a car crash resulting in serious injuries or deaths. According to the 2011 National Occupant Protection Use Survey, approximately 600,000 drivers are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices at any given daytime moment.

New technology offers ways for drivers to respond to emails, texts and phone calls and use navigational aids without using their hands. But whether these systems will help prevent distracted driving accidents is an open question.

Distracted driving caused 3,328 traffic deaths in 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported. Injuries caused by distracted driving reached 421,000 in 2012, an increase of 9% from 2011.

A new product known as HeadsUP!, for instance, would project cellphone features onto a car’s windshield. The visual display device would enable users to answer phone calls, access texts, respond to emails, and use other apps by voice command and gestures, without looking away from the road. Similar optical sight technology has been used on military aircraft, providing altitude, speed, and directional information. As the technology has advanced, more complex information has been added.

False Sense of Security

Lawmakers and safety advocates are concerned about whether such devices will lead to more car accidents caused by distracted drivers. A windshield display may give drivers a false sense of security that they can drive while actually diverting their attention from the road.

Technology that places information directly in a user’s field of vision is already under fire. Google Glass made news recently when a California driver wearing the head-mounted device was cited for distracted driving. Google Glass is a voice-controlled computer device that resembles a pair of glasses and displays information in the user’s field of vision.

Traffic laws vary state by state, but many have distracted-driving laws or bans on certain monitors that could apply to Google Glass, CNN reported. New York Law prohibits all drivers from using handheld devices and texting.

A recent report by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging increases the risk of a crash or near-crash and results in drivers taking their eyes off the road for an average of 23 seconds.

The study also determined there is no direct increased crash risk from talking on the phone, but the visual-manual tasks associated with picking up the phone, looking at it and actually touching it increased crash risk by three times. Even the use of portable hands-free and vehicle-integrated hands-free cellphones requires visual- manual tasks at least half the time, which are associated with a greater crash risk.

Other Distractions

Even advanced technology can’t address all forms of driver distractions. Distraction.gov, a government website, defines distracted driving as any activity that could divert a driver’s attention from the primary task of driving. In addition to texting and using a cellphone, it lists these activities as distracting to drivers:

  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by a distracted driver, it’s a good idea to understand you legal options. Contact us today.

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