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Utah driver distraction study: Hands-free technology comes with risks

In 2012, 10 percent of all traffic fatalities involved a driver who was distracted in some way.
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    December 06, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Driver distraction has become a big problem in Salt Lake City and there have been many laws passed to prohibit drivers from engaging in such behaviors. In response to the attention distraction has attracted nationally, auto manufacturers have been putting features in their vehicles that embrace hands-free technology. However a new study indicates that these features may put drivers at risk of being in a motor vehicle accident.

In 2012, 10 percent of all traffic fatalities involved a driver who was distracted in some way according to the State of Utah Department of Public Safety Highway Safety Office. In total, 20 people were killed but it is likely that the numbers could be higher since many drivers would be unwilling to admit that they were distracted.

New study shows risks with hands-free technology

A new study conducted at the University of Utah indicates that hands-free technology may be just as risky for drivers to use as hand-held devices according to USA Today. The study was held by the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety and involved more than 150 participants. The foundation wants automobile makers and the technology industry to essentially put some attention on the subject of cognitive distraction before adding more voice activated technology.

According to, 387,000 people suffered injuries because of a distracted driver in 2011. That most dangerous activity that a driver can engage in, the site says, is texting because it encourages a driver to engage in all three types of distraction - cognitive, manual and visual.

Measuring cognitive distraction

The aim of the study was to measure cognitive distraction and look at how different sources of distraction affect people's ability to concentrate on driving. Participants were asked to perform these tests in an instrumented vehicle, a driving simulator and a lab. Sensors, cameras and other devices were used to capture data. Researchers first measured participants' cognitive levels while they were focused entirely on driving. Then data was captured, using the following tasks:
- Listening to an audio book.
- Talking on a hand-held cell phone.
- Using a voice-to-text technology.
- Listening to the radio.
- Talking to a passenger.
- Speaking on a hands-free phone.

After capturing the data, researchers then looked at the findings and discovered that the more complicated the task was, the higher the measurement of cognitive distraction. The study data revealed that voice-to-text technology caused significant distraction. Participants missed visual cues and reacted slower in hitting the brakes.

While it is not likely that car makers are going to pay a great deal of attention to the results of the study, it would be wise for drivers to keep these things in mind the next time they get into their car. When someone is injured in a collision involving a distracted driver, they should speak with an experienced attorney for legal advice.

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