Hands-Free Texting is a Major Distraction, Says AAA

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According to a new AAA study, hands free infotainment systems are not as safe as everyone seems to think. Just because these new systems allow drivers to send emails and text messages without the use of their hands, it doesn’t mean they are any safer than using hand held devices, according to the study.

Currently there are about 9 million cars and trucks on the road with infotainment systems that allow drivers to use their voices to complete tasks such as controlling windshield wipers and posting Facebook messages. That number is expected to jump to 62 million vehicles by 2018, according to automotive industry research.

Drivers across the U.S. seem to be jumping at the opportunity to get their hands on cars with the new systems, particularly younger drivers. And, automakers have been trying to excited car buyers with the dashboard infotainment systems, using the angle that these systems are much safer because they are voice controlled and allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel.

The problem with the systems, however, is that they encourage drivers to slip into autopilot mode and stop paying attention to things around them such as other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.

“It’s a widely held misconception that people believe if their eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel that they’re actually safer,” said Yolanda Cade, spokeswoman for AAA, to CBS News.

The AAA study focused on the mental distractions caused by using devices to perform tasks such as listening to music and sending emails. The study involved 32 university students who were tested while not driving, while driving in a simulator and while driving on a 3-mile loop through a Salt Lake City Utah neighborhood with traffic signals.

According to University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer, an expert on cognitive distraction and lead author of the study, using voice commands requires more concentration than simply talking to another person. This is one of the reasons using these systems is so dangerous.

AAA officials said they want to limit in-vehicle, voice-driven technologies to core tasks. The group also said it hopes results from the study will help change some of the misconceptions about hands-free devices