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AAA study: hands-free texting still dangerous

In a landmark research study, the American Automobile Association (AAA) proved right the fears of safety experts around the country: using hands-free technology to compose and respond to texts and emails wirelessly is just as distracting as typing them in by hand. The study used a number of different data collection methods, including interior mounted video cameras, an EEG-wired hat that analyzed brain activity, recorded reaction times to stimuli designed to mimic potential real-life road distractions (traffic signals, etc.) and test subject dialogue. 

The AAA-sponsored study was able to categorize various types of driver distractions by the level of attention that a driver typically gives them, and found conclusively that hands-free texting and emailing was by far the most distracting, much more so than listening to the radio, chatting with passengers or talking on a cellphone (either hand-held or hands-free). 

Some may wonder why the AAA study is so relevant, since nearly every state has some form of distracted driving statute on the books. Researchers believe that studies like this one are crucial to opening a dialogue between safety experts and automobile companies, particularly as in-car technology systems become more and more sophisticated. Industry trends indicate that by the year 2018, there will be five times more “infotainment” packages in new vehicles, something that would theoretically allow drivers to talk, send texts, update social network status, respond to emails and handle internal climate, comfort and sound needs. The more distractions drivers are faced with, the higher that car accident rates will likely climb.

AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger advises that, based upon this research and other auto safety studies, in-car systems be limited to only necessary functions, and that texting, emailing, web browsing or other extremely distracting functions be inaccessible while the vehicle is in motion. With the study being so new, only time will tell if this landmark research will have an impact on the distracted driving epidemic seen across America today.

Source: AAA, “Think you know all about distracted driving? Think again, says AAA,” Nancy White, June 30, 2013 (revised version; originally released June 12, 2013)

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