Are Car Safety Features Helping Distracted Driving Risk?

Today’s car safety features that can be found in today’s vehicles are quite versatile and, in theory, allow for drivers to focus their attention completely on the road ahead. Call it a safe way to efficiently multitask if you want – after all, the U.S. Department of Transportation claimsdistracted driving claims 3,000 of the 33,000 traffic fatalities each year. But experts are now weighing in on distracted driving studies commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that show advanced technology may simply be another avenue for distracting drivers.

What Sparked the Fire?

The spark for featuring voice controls in today’s vehicles comes after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended in December that all states ban the use of mobile devices in cars, with the exception of emergencies or navigational purposes.

So far, the only instance of a complete ban occurred just recently in the town of Chapel Hill, NC where all cell phone use will be completely prohibited beginning in June.

A number of public service organizations, such as the National Safety Council (NSC), have applauded the North Carolina town’s initiative in enacting a comprehensive ban of cell phone use.

“In passing a total ban, Chapel Hill has taken a significant step toward making their roads safer,” says NSC CEO Janet Froetscher. “Passing total cell phone bans makes our roads safer. We praise Chapel Hill for this action. It will save lives.”

This particular legislation, in addition to talks of similar versions in the future, has sparked a bit of controversy nationwide. Experts and lawmakers believe that enacting a comprehensive ban should be done on a much larger scale. After all, this ruling is on such a small-level that those driving through North Carolina would only be subject to the ban for a matter of minutes.

Counter-Productive Nature of Car Safety Features

David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, is researching the correlation between driver distraction and car safety features as part of a study commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In his research, Strayer set up a simulator that tested subjects’ reaction times while utilizing a system that allowed them to receive emails and have them read aloud.

Although the subjects were able to receive and reply to emails hands-free, Strayer says the time to react to simulated brake lights was “significantly longer” than when the subjects were listening to the radio or talking on a cell phone.

Although this is just preliminary research as part of a much larger study, Strayer’s findings suggest that hands-free may not really be the problem with distracted driving. Car safety features that keep drivers’ hands on the wheel may very well be the logical solution, but research shows that the focus of the driver’s attention is the true determining variable.

Do you think that people with voice control options and other car safety features are just as likely to cause an accident? Share your thoughts about safety options and cell phone laws with us in the comment box below. 

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.
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