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With Siri on the iPhone and Bluetooth in dashboards, it's a lot easier for drivers to talk or text on their cellphones -- but a study released Wednesday found these hands-free technologies could be even more dangerous than hand-held devices when used on the road. The study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety measured drivers' brainwaves while they were multitasking and found they had to cope with a heavier "mental workload" and distractions when using voice-to-text email features compared to talking on a cellphone, whether hand-held or hands-free.
The study found voice-to-text features sometimes caused drivers to have "a kind of tunnel vision" or -- even more problematic -- "inattention blindness," Automobile Club of Southern California senior research associate Steve Bloch said. With the latter, drivers "don't even see what's right in front of them, because they're so lost in their own thoughts, so cognitively distracted," he added. The trade group said the study focused only on the mental distraction posed by using a device, and ignored the visual and manual aspects of hand-held cellphones versus hands-free systems integrated into cars. With a growing number of automakers allowing smartphones to interface with their vehicles so that drivers can use voice commands to turn on windshield wipers, find the nearest restaurant, send and receive text messages, set appointments, and even post on Facebook, Kelly Browning is worried. California Highway Patrol public information officer Vince Ramirez urged drivers to refrain from using their cellphones in car.


The state banned drivers from making calls with handheld cellphones in 2008, and driving while texting in 2009. CHP hands out an average of 36,000 such citations monthly, but that's only a tiny fraction of the number of drivers using cellphones.
According to a recent study by the state Office of Traffic Safety, the percentage of California drivers using cellphones at any one time is 7.5 percent.
That's down from almost 11 percent in 2012; nevertheless, OTS director Christopher Murphy said the number is still too high because any usage of cellphones while driving creates distractions and compromises reaction times. Citing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, AAA said 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver in 2011.
LaHood recommended that drivers take their eyes off the road for only two seconds at a time, and 12 seconds total, to operate in-car communications, entertainment and navigation devices. He also called for disabling texting, browsing, video-phoning, Web pages and social media unless the vehicle is parked.


With a five-fold increase in such infotainment systems expected in new vehicles by 2018, AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet called for action. He said the automotive and electronics industries should limit the use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities, such as climate control and windshield wipers; and disabling certain voice-to-text technologies that use social media, email and texting when a vehicle is in motion.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued guidelines for automakers to reduce the distraction risk posed by electronic devices in their vehicles in April, after a study found cellphone texting, browsing and dialing increased the risk of a crash by three times.




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