Quick Takes: New Car Messaging System

Solution Produces New Distractions

Though states have made many attempts to prevent distracted driving and the serious dangers it poses, car companies are swiftly updating the technology of their vehicles to bypass state laws, including the newest addition of hands-free text messaging. However, just because this new technology deems itself “hands-free” does not mean that it’s not a distraction nor a threat to the lives of the user and others on the road.

We are a society that multitasks endlessly, under the belief that we are completely capable of handling multiple complex tasks at once, such as driving and using our cell phones at the same time. But people’s multitasking skills aren’t all they’re cracked up to be — psychologists at the University of Utah conducted an experiment last year in which participants were supposed to watch a video of a group of people passing a basketball around and count how many times the ball was passed. Over 40 percent of participants never even noticed a bear moonwalk right through the center of the group, and all they were doing were counting the number of times a ball was passed around. While this task is simple, driving is not.

Despite the hands-free label, texting and cell phone use are still distractions. Again, the University of Utah dispels the hands-free-is-better myth with their findings that using a cell phone while driving, whether hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reaction as much as a BAC of .08 would. According to AAA’s website, distracted driving contributes to 8,000 crashes every single day, eclipsing the number of those caused by drunk driving. If you’re distracted, you’re not paying attention to how you drive and you’re not watching how others drive. It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for — on a busy road, this could be fatal.
— Chelsey Davis
Staff Writer

Driving Made Safer with Hands Free
While the legality of the new Ford, BMW and General Motors Corp. hands-free texting systems in terms of preexisting texting laws has not yet been settled, hands-free texting in vehicles ought to be accepted by the public and lawmakers.

Cell phone texting is primarily a manual distraction for drivers. When drivers take their hands off the steering wheel to type and send text messages, they are endangering themselves. Cell phone texting makes drivers take their eyes — and their minds — off the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, after 34 states instituted laws banning cell phone texting while driving, it was observed that the number of drivers visibly manipulating hand-held electronic devices dropped significantly from 1 percent to 0.6 percent nationwide. But there is still a long way to go. By making drivers keep their hands on the steering wheel — and, as a result, making texting more efficient — hands-free text messaging will decrease the chances of distraction.

Through a Bluetooth connection, Ford’s voice-activated Sync system will read text messages aloud, and drivers will be able to tap a touch screen to send one of 15 preset responses such as, “I’m on my way.” BMW offers a similar system. GM’s OnStar system will transcribe spoken messages into text messages. Hands-free texting will be no more dangerous, and probably much safer, than mobile communications centers — DVD players, access to Facebook and Twitter, and Global Positioning System devices — in many cars today.

Besides, it would be nearly impossible to enforce a ban on hands-free text messaging, since hands-free phone calls are already legal. There will always be potential distractions for drivers — whether they are load passengers or the radio — but as long as drivers keep their hands on the steering wheel, the risk of their eyes and minds getting distracted is reduced.
— Arik Burakovsky
Senior Staff Writer

The System Poses Minor Impact
For its 2012 line of vehicles, Ford Motors, BMW and General Motors Corp. have added touch-screen texting to its already feature-heavy Sync System. Users will have their texts read aloud by word-recognition software, and be able to respond to them with a handful of preset textual responses, like “I’ll call you back in a few minutes” and “I’m on my way,” all selectable from the main console touch screen.

The move has sparked much controversy. But the fact of the matter is that Sync touch-texting probably won’t change the status quo very much — widespread implementation of such a system is rather unlikely, and in any case, its effectiveness boils down to whether drivers choose to use the system responsibly or abuse it.
Simply in terms of scale, the Sync system is unlikely to have a huge impact on car safety overall. It is only available for installation in Ford, BMW and GM cars. Furthermore, Ford doesn’t include Sync standard, and many features on the system (including touch-screen texting) require an additional fee to be unlocked. Without a universal implementation of this feature, users will likely shrug off the extra fee and go ahead at texting and driving, the usual way.

Finally, accident statistics from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the National Automotive Sampling System indicate that drivers under 20 are the most likely to be distracted and involved in fatal crashes — young drivers are relatively unlikely to drive new cars.

So it may take years for any benefit (or added distraction) the Sync system offers to this highly susceptible age group to take full effect.
— Ayan Kusari
Contributing Writer

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