Jun 14, 2013

    Hands-free car gear still pose a risk

    AS CONCERNS intensified over driver distraction from electronic gadgets, carmakers have increasingly introduced voice-activated systems that allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

    But a new study said that the most advanced systems actually create a different - and worse - safety risk by taking a driver's mind, if not eyes, off the road.

    These systems let drivers use voice commands to dictate a text message, send an e-mail message and even update a Facebook page.

    Carmakers said the systems not only address safety concerns, but also cater to consumers who increasingly want to stay connected to the Internet while driving.

    "What we have on our hands is a looming public-safety crisis with the proliferation of these types of vehicles," said Ms Yolanda Cade, a spokesman for American Automobile Association, whose Foundation for Highway Safety released the study on Wednesday.

    What makes the use of these speech- to-text systems so risky is that they create a significant cognitive distraction, the researchers found.

    The brain is so taxed from interacting with the system that, even with hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, the driver's reaction time and ability to process what is happening on the road are impaired.

    In some luxury cars, drivers can dictate e-mail or text messages. Some mainstream models are equipped with options that can translate voice messages into text.

    More than half of all new cars will integrate some type of voice recognition by 2019, according to electronics consulting firm IMS Research.