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Overdrive Extra

Max Heine

Why this safety technology doesn’t work

| June 15, 2013

A new distracted driving report confirms what truckers know intuitively and expands upon what other studies say: Hands-free communications technology is just as distracting as hands-on.


Getting away from hand-held cell phone use doesn’t solve problems with distracted driving.

The study was released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. It’s based on lots of surveys and included drivers wearing geeky headgear with electrodes measuring brain activity.

When compared with other diversions inside the car, “interacting with the speech-to-text system was the most cognitively distracting,” the report said. “This clearly suggests that the adoption of voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”

Hardly what the public thinks. Seven out of 10 people believe using hands-free devices is “somewhat” or “much” safer than using handheld devices while driving, says another  study the foundation has been citing in conjunction with this topic.

The stakes are big. More than 3,000 people are killed, and almost a half-million injured, in accidents due to driver distraction. Many of those cases are related to a cell phone. As the foundation notes, these numbers could be underestimated, since it’s often difficult to document distraction factors after a wreck.

Now back to “cognitively distracting.” Use of communications technology often produces what the study calls “inattention blindness.” This means your eyes get it, but your brain doesn’t. The braking or swerving to avoid a wreck comes too late, if at all. A voice-based system can free your hands, but they remain on cruise control.

Driver attitudes toward talking or texting on a cell phone fall into the “do as I say, not as I do” category, based on surveys the AAA Foundation cites. Not surprisingly, these same hypocrites are also fond of other risky behavior, such as speeding and aggressive lane-changing.

A commenter on the Washington Post site notes that penalties for drunken driving are getting more severe (I’d say not enough, given the thousands of deaths and irresponsible behavior), but distracted driving penalties are treated as wrist-slappers. Another person offered an explanation: It’s the drunks who are perceived as the bad guys, the other guys. The cell phone addicts are the good guys, us.

Given such faulty reasoning and sloppy emotionalism that fuel certain safety initiatives, that’s not likely to change any time soon. Instead, we’ll continue to see countless dollars and man-hours poured into CSA minutia that have nothing to do with driver behavior, even though the 600 or so annual truck-related fatalities amount to only one-fifth of the fatalities linked to distracted driving.

  • Chad Dornsife

    Complete garbage, vehicles with onboard telemetry and interactive commands drive fewer miles and have better overall safety records.

    One would think that any study would look at the real world overall results. Simply stated mobile device use in vehicles has increased exponentially with inverse related accident rates (lower). The data is clear.

  • disqus_w9c6NF37lV

    I’m sorry but when I am on that straight asphalt ribbon for hours on end, I like to chat with my friends.

  • Truckman

    You probably don’t ride a motorcycle,or you’d be against ANY form of “distracted driving”. Your “data” is probably valid “theoretically”,but my “real world experience” tells quite a different story. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen a driver look me RIGHT IN THE EYE,and drive out in front of me. A few with a cell phone stuck to their ear,some thinking they’re doing a great job,driving while arguing on their hands free phone,and a couple who were just plain stupid. It doesn’t MATTER what else you’re doing-if your attention is not 100% on DRIVING,you’re endangering everyone around you. I know-this really is unfair to you “drivers” who also talk on the phone,yell at the kids,eat a burger,drink your super-size soda,tune the radio,read a road map or change the music in your stereo,but letting you continue to do these things at road speed is really unfair to drivers and riders who have to try to avoid being killed by inattentive drivers.

  • rydermike

    BS ! For those in slow 65 mph or slower governed trucks almost NEED to have conversations just to stay awake from the constant slow drone of going down the road while traffic passes by.

  • Sed

    I have driven a truck 25years and with that said I have used a head set the that long and did it safely.If you don’t use common sense and common courtesy the get out of the truck and stay out!!!

  • jeffzx9r

    Absolutely agree. I also ride a motorcycle. Just this week, a local schoolteacher was rear-ended (stopped in traffic) at 65mph by another woman who was “driving” turned around (facing her infant in safety seat–in the back seat) holding a baby bottle–feeding her baby. Teacher is paralyzed from neck down.
    REALLY. +1^ Truckman.

  • Old Trucker

    Everyone comments on how in the earlier days of trucking, the truck driver was considered as the Knight of the Road. A shining example of good driving. We have come a long way since then but the one thing that they had versus todays drivers was concentration. They did not have so many distraction in the cab and relied on some good and some bad ways of staying alert. I do think, and I use a hands free devise, that this is also a distraction. I catch myself not focusing on the road but more on the conversation. May need to go back and if a driver is moving down the road, if you monitor their on board computer, do not call for a conversation. Alert them and have them pull over to talk. Or if it is not important just have them call on their break.

  • Jimmy the Greek

    I can rember pulling over on the sholder and sleeping on the dog house . strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.