In-Car Device Safety Investigated by Feds

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In-car devices of many types are being investigated by the National Highway

Transportation Secretary Administration (NHTSA) to see if they pose a safety threat to drivers.

NHTSA investigates in-car devicesNHTSA confirmed to CEoutlook that it’s conducting research on devices including Bluetooth hands free kits and navigation products as well as in-car devices in general, but it wouldn’t comment further.

Transportation secretary Ray LaHood told reporters earlier this week that NHTSA is investigating whether hands free devices or technology like the Ford Sync poses a “cognitive distraction” to drivers. LaHood, however, said the agency won’t call for restrictions on these devices until the government conducts further research.

“We base our solutions on data, and before I or anyone else gets up and starts talking about ‘hands free this’ or ‘hands free that,’ or Sync or whatever, we want to have good data to back it up,” LaHood said, as reported the Detroit News.

Some earlier research showed that drivers can become distracted even when using hands free devices because the act of talking on the phone itself is a distraction, not just holding the phone. Other research said distraction from dialing and operating the phone is far greater than simply talking.

Ford said in the past that its Sync reduces driver distraction.

NHTSA also pointed out to us that it is working with car companies to find safe ways to use devices in cars.

LaHood’s comment came days after Consumer Reports released a study that found that 63 percent of people under 30 years old said they’ve used a handheld phone while driving in the past 30 days, and 30 percent of them texted while driving during that period. The statistics for older users showed 41 percent used a handheld phone while driving and 9 percent texted while driving.

Source: CEoutlook and The Detroit News

Photo via Reuters

Chart: Source Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

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  1. I can’t say too much that has not already been said. Anything hands free is just what its says “HANDS FREE,” not attention free. All Things distract, big chrome wheels, flashy paint jobs, those not often seen exotic cars (I know I stare), even those ball sacks people like to hang under the 4×4 trucks. Get a grip on reality!

  2. The problem is that most people see driving nowadays as a chore. If people still enjoyed driving, we would see a lot less SUVs on the road and more sportscars. (with manual transmissions at that). When I drive, I am DRIVING. I look ahead, pay attention to what’s around me and look for the apex at almost every corner, but then again, I spend my weekends at the racetrack or autocross. I totally agree with Jason Denton’s post above. I know for me, even talking handsfree is a bit of a distraction, so I do it as little as possible. Some people’s brains may be able to multitask better, but I know for a fact that I cannot. Besides, I would much rather be listening to my music than BSing with someone about something thats not important anyway. We need to reignite America’s love affair with DRIVING again, and maybe we’ll actually have drivers paying attention to what they are doing and the roads will be safer.

  3. Hey, let’s remember that Ford (with its Sync)and GM (with OnStar and now MyLink) have a lot of clout in Washington. And Ford has lots of test results to back up the relative safety of its devices.

  4. Debating the relative degree of attention needed to talk on a cell phone, text your friend, eat a burger or argue with your passenger misses the point here: Eating in the car will not be banned, nor will talking with a passenger. Banning the use of selected electronics products in the car is far easier for an ambitious legislator or clueless Cabinet member. The answer is to have an effective, well-crafted industry response to these wrongheaded efforts when they arise.

    We’ll see more of this nanny-state foolishness, not less. And if the next person injured or killed by a distracted driver is a relative of a member of Congress, watch out.

  5. Alcohol Base line Cell Phone
    Total Accidents 0 0 3
    Brake Onset Time (msec) 888 (51) 943 (58) 1022 (61)
    Braking Force (% of maximum) 69.6 (3.6) 56.4 (2.5) 55.2 (2.9)
    Speed (MPH) 52.8 (.08) 54.9 (.08) 53.2 (.07)
    Following Distance (meters) 26.5 (1.7) 27.3 (1.3) 28.5 (1.6)
    ½ Recovery Time 5.4 (0.3) 5.4 (0.3) 6.2 (0.4)

    Just found an example supporting my previous comments. There are other studies in addition to this one. @Mr. Elliott—no there is not a column for “Talking to person in car” But I think it is safe to assume it is not as distracting as being drunk. It is not a matter of eliminating ALL in car distractions, it is a matter of reducing the highest orders of magnitude. I doubt any of us feel drunk driving is a poor law.

  6. When talking to a person face to face, our brain picks up on both facial and body signals. Combining these signals with the spoken word creates a composite which delivers the message. You can still figure out what a person is telling you by removing either the spoken word or the body cues, but you must focus more on the task of talking since you are now missing one of the communication components. That is where the problem is. The brain processes face to face conversations differently than blind conversations. 60-70% of communication is non verbal, remove the person, your brain WILL be distracted trying to assemble the message. For those of you who subscribe to the “I talk on the phone all the time and drive great!” You dont know what you dont know. Maybe the guy in the other lane disagrees with your driving prowess. I knew a guy who drove drunk all the time, he never crashed. The point is, it is a more substantial distraction than most people will admit to/realize. Partially due to human nature. “Sure driving while talking on a cell is more dangerous. Yes I do it anyway.” Go ahead and hack me up, but please come at me with substance. By the way, in MULTIPLE collegiate studies, driving while on a cell phone parallels or exceeds the reaction times, following distances and staying within the lane, to that of a drunk with .08 BAC.

  7. The truth is that some people can drive with distraction and some cannot. Each driver will usually know which side of that they fall on. I fall on the side of being able to drive with the distraction because of two jobs I used to have as a driver. The first one was as a courier driver, where I would be talking on my cell phone and eating lunch while in L.A. freeway traffic. The second job was as a cab driver with the same things going on and one thing more: the radio, so I could talk to dispatch. All of this was with NEVER an accident. NEVER ran a light or stop sign.

  8. This is a slippery slope. The concerns are valid. ANYTHING that diverts attention from driving is a hazard. The question will end up being; \"What is an acceptable risk, and what risks can be eliminated?\" Drivers will never give up conveniences in the car, and we will never completely eliminate them. The question in the end will be where we strike the balance.

  9. As long as we\’re providing Mr. LaHood with suggestions to save us from ourselves, let\’s have him shut down all the roads. That\’s a sure way to reduce driver distraction.

  10. I guess very soon they will ban having passengers – – Passengers talk and sometimes require your attention, which distracts the driver!

    Stop lights should be banned too… they are a HUGE distraction when driving through intersections.

    Have you looked inside of a Police car lately – – talk about driving while distracted!

    Lately, for every step forward we take two steps back!

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