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Voice-Activated Technology Poses Greater Driving Hazard

Although there is currently no federal law prohibiting drivers from using cell phones and other hand-held devices while driving, many states have distracted driving laws. For instance, in Massachusetts, it is illegal for any driver to send text messages, and drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use cell phones. As public awareness of the dangers of distracted driving increases, automakers are scrambling to provide hands-free communication technology. However, a new study shows that voice-activated electronics may be more dangerous on the road.

Researchers for the American Auto Association (AAA) studied the brain activity and attention in simulated driving scenarios. Speech-to-text technology that enables drivers to compose and send e-mails, tweet or update their Facebook page created more cognitive distraction than that measured in drivers having a cell phone conversation. These drivers were less likely to scan the road ahead of them and their automatic driving skills were impaired.

These findings are disturbing, since previous studies have shown that cell phone use puts drivers at the same risk for a car crash as someone with a .08 blood alcohol count, the marker for drunken driving. Ironically, as the incidence of drunk driving accidents decreases, accidents caused by distracted driving rises. The adoption of voice-activated devices may make this problem even worse.

Do not expect legislation to move at the same speed as the marketing of the next great automotive communications gadget. Liability lawsuits against negligent drivers who crash into another car because they were engaged in an intense conversation with their dashboard may be a more effective corrective in the meantime. It will have to be.

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