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Dashboard Distractions Lead to Vehicle Accidents

Cell phones aren’t the only devices distracting drivers. Vehicles now come equipped with devices that allow drivers to use voice commands to make calls, send text messages, get directions and even search the Internet.

According to a new study by the AAA Foundation, these hands free devices are also likely to cause a distracted driving accident and may even pose higher risks. Researchers found that even when a driver’s eyes are on the road and hands are on the wheel, sources of cognitive distraction cause significant impairments to driving, such as:

  • Suppressed brain activity in the areas needed for safe driving;
  • Increased reaction time (to peripheral detection test and lead vehicle braking);
  • Missed cues and decreased accuracy (to peripheral detection test); and
  • Decreased visual scanning of the driving environment (tunnel vision, of sorts).

“People aren’t seeing what they need to see to drive. That’s the scariest part to me,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the group’s safety research arm. “Police accident investigative reports are filled with comments like ‘looked, but did not see.’ That’s what drivers tell them. We used to think they were lying, but now we know that’s actually true.”

The study also found that driver interactions with in-vehicle speech-to-text systems create the highest level of cognitive distraction among the tasks assessed, even higher than talking on a cell phone. The findings highlight that hands free devices may not be as safe as many drivers believe.