Hands-free does not equal risk-free, experts say

In the modern day, technology runs through our lives. Many new vehicles are installed with hardware and software designed to assist drivers when behind the wheel. A vast number of people now also own smartphones and can use them to communicate with employers or even to guide them when on the road.

The way technology helps our lives and speeds up the way we do business is immeasurable, but experts say that the use of some hands-free technology, although designed to improve road safety, can actually hamper it.

Hands-free does not necessarily mean risk-free, is the slogan used by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, whose recent study found that a number of distractions still persist for drivers and fleet managers.

The AAA found that drivers vocally interacting with technology can find their attention significantly lowered and their ability to maintain a high standard of safety behind the wheel impacted.

The foundation tested the reaction times of drivers when they were distracted, and used the results to rank certain tasks on a scale of 1-5.

Stage one, the AAA said, was a low level of distraction from tasks such as listening to the radio. Stage two came from speaking with a passenger or over a hands-free device.

Using voice-integrated technologies, which are found in many in-car devices and on a great number of mobile phones was ranked with a three on the distracted scale. Apple's popular voice-command software Siri was found to be a particular distraction, achieving a four on the AAA's rating system, with mathematics proving to be the highest level with a distraction level of five.

Some of the ways drivers reacted to these distractions included showing a slower brake reaction time, struggling to maintain a suitable distance to the car in front or with head and eye movements that took the driver's attention away from the road.

The study shows that fleet managers looking to reduce the risks of distraction should try to limit the use of voice-activated technology interactions among their drivers.

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