The state Legislature is moving slowly — think “rush hour on Route 128” slowly — toward requiring that all drivers use hands-free technology when using their phones in their cars.
Surfing the internet or texting your friend while behind the wheel is already illegal, but there are mountains of evidence showing the practice is deadly. About 3,300 people die every year in crashes caused by distracted driving, and an additional 36,500 are injured, according to the federal government.
Increasingly, however, cell phones aren’t the only culprit. Advanced in-vehicle “infotainment” systems — think of a dashboard display with radio, GPS, cameras and internet — are proving to be just as distracting, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The systems are often too complicated to be operated through voice or touch command, and especially challenging for older drivers.
“Voice-command functions found in new in-vehicle technology are intended to help drivers by keeping their eyes and attention on the road,” said Mary Maguire, director of public and legislative affairs for AAA Northeast. “Unfortunately, the complexity and poor design of some of these systems could cause more harm for older drivers, in particular, instead of helping them.”
The AAA study showed older drivers needed roughly five to nine seconds to use the system — sending a text, changing the radio station, setting a GPS address. Taking your eyes of the road for just two seconds, however, doubles a driver’s risk of a crash.
The news is especially concerning considering that by 2030, more than one in five drivers will be over 65.
Maguire called the issue “a design problem, not an age problem.”
The AAA urged automakers to design infotainment systems that are easily used by drivers of all ages. That can be done by improving voice-command technology, simplifying software, and repositioning the systems so drivers don’t have to take their eyes off the road to use them.
Hands-free technology is supposed to make the roads safer. It’s up to automakers to make sure it does.