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By Jim Adler September 30, 2015

Fact: Distracted drivers are killing and severely injuring thousands of innocent Americans. In fact, more than 25% of all car wrecks are due to distracted driving. That’s why so many states and cities have passed laws banning using cellphones while driving to text, make calls or use the Internet.

But sometimes such laws make distinctions, allowing hands-free rather than handheld devices. However admirable in their intent, those laws are making the wrong call.

Why? Because studies have proven that using a hands-free device leaves you just as distracted as a driver who’s holding a cellphone.

Yet the same automakers and communications providers that readily acknowledge cellphone usage can kill are busily developing hands-free speech dictation, voice recognition and “infotainment” systems. They say these will be safer, but they won’t be.

Compounding the problem is that an estimated 34% of drivers admit texting while driving at least once a month. Whether handheld or hands-free texting, that’s a lot of dangerous drivers.

What Are Voice Recognition Systems?

Also known as speech recognition, voice recognition systems are devices that recognize what a driver is saying and then act accordingly, whether placing a phone call, writing and sending texts, changing radio stations or finding a location on a map.

The driver simply speaks clearly, and ideally the system understands the words and obeys. In effect, you talk to your car, and your car responds.

Such systems are popular, with about 10 million vehicles currently equipped with this technology. The AAA, formerly American Automobile Association, says 62 million vehicles will have voice recognition systems by 2018.

Research Shows Dangers

Yet research shows that even such hands-free speech recognition technology is a driving distraction and can lead to fatal crashes.

David Strayer, a University of Utah psychology professor, found in a study that talking to your car may be even more distracting than talking on a cellphone. His study was sponsored by the AAA.

“You’re going to fail to notice things,” Strayer told the Salt Lake Tribune. “You’re going to suffer from inattention blindness, and that’s even if it’s a purely voice-based system where your eyes are on the road and your hands are on the wheel.”

Toyota’s Entune was found to be the best of such systems, while research found that a Siri voice recognition system had the highest distraction levels. These involved inconsistencies in which Siri would give varied responses to commands which seemed identical, or when Siri required exact phrases to achieve specific tasks and would not perform when given subtle deviations.

Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system also was found to pose cognitive burdens. Less burdensome were MyFord Touch, Mercedes’ COMMAND system and Chrysler’s UConnect, though these, too, diverted attention more than a cellphone conversation.

Research also showed that, for most systems, single-task commands for such things as changing radio stations were about as distracting as listening to an audio book. Using speech-to-text technology to compose information was more difficult, and using menu-based functions even more so.

“You can be distracted and not know it,” J. Peter Kissinger, president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, told Autoblog. “That’s the nature of mental distraction. Often, you don’t know you’re distracted until it’s too late.”

Texting Research Reveals Risks

Another study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University compared traditional type-texting to voice-texting by drivers. Either way, all 43 texting participants needed twice the time to react as when not texting, and their eye contact on the road dropped significantly.

The study’s research also found that voice-to-text required more time than type-texting since drivers had to revisit their message and fix mistakes made by the device. Yet in either case, drivers were engaging their minds on texting rather than driving, making them distracted, impaired — and dangerous.

Additionally, drivers using voice-to-text systems believed they were safer than those using type-texting — a false sense of security that made them even more dangerous.

The message? Newer technology isn’t necessarily safer technology.

Safety Responses to Distracted Driving

Safety advocates advise manufacturers to pay closer attention to the very real distractions posed by hands-free devices — and not just handheld devices — in order to make them more accurate and simple to use. They also advise motorists to be more aware of possible distractions while using voice-recognition systems and to minimize their use of such technology.

More and better laws also would help. Though Texas is one of only four states which do not ban the practice, more than two dozen Texas cities have passed municipal laws restricting cellphone use by drivers, and some Texas legislators continue the drive to bring Texas up to speed with national interests.

If a distracted driver injured someone in your family, alert the car wreck lawyers with Jim Adler & Associates. You’ll quickly get a free, no-obligation legal case review, and you may be entitled to substantial financial compensation for your losses.

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