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Combating distracted driving with technology

Combating distracted driving with technology

Crash avoidance technology could be the most promising avenue for reducing crash risks related to distractions of any type, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

An analysis of data from two field studies of several prototype collision warning systems suggest the systems may not reduce the prevalence of distracted driving; however, the technologies can help prevent or mitigate crashes.

Warnings can redirect a distracted, inattentive or sleepy driver's attention back to the roadway if a vehicle detects the potential for a collision. Some systems attempt to avoid the collision altogether if a driver does not respond fast enough or does not respond at all.

Infotainment systems

Automakers are integrating "infotainment" systems into vehicles to let drivers and other occupants plug in or wirelessly connect portable electronic devices such as cellphones to vehicle entertainment and communication systems.

Many newer infotainment systems and portable devices can be controlled using voice commands. Several experimental studies have shown that drivers take shorter glances away from the roadway and keep their eyes on the road for a greater proportion of the time when interacting with a portable device using voice commands than when using their hands.

However, voice systems are not all designed the same, and the benefits can vary. An IIHS study found that drivers were able to place calls and enter addresses into a navigation system during highway driving more quickly and keep their eyes on the roadway longer when using a system in which a single detailed voice command was used to complete the tasks, compared with a system in which multiple voice commands were used to navigate different menus.

On the flip side, drivers experience many more errors when entering an address using a single voice command. The effects of voice recognition technology on crash risk are unknown. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued voluntary guidelines for integrated infotainment systems in an effort to minimize their visual and manual distraction potential. The administration also has provided similar voluntary guidelines for makers of portable and aftermarket devices.

Phones limiting distraction

Phone applications that restrict or limit access to electronic devices also have been developed. The apps generally work when vehicles are in motion and can silence a phone, redirect incoming calls to voicemail or respond to text messages with a preprogrammed message.

A study examining phone use during work-related driving found that when phone use was restricted by a blocking application, employees answered fewer calls with their employer-provided phones while the vehicle was moving and made more calls when the vehicle was stopped.

Another study examining smartphone use among 182 teen drivers for a year found that teens who had an app that restricted cellphone use and blocked incoming calls and messages made significantly fewer calls and texts per mile driven.