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CEA Questions AAA’s Distracted-Driving Study

Washington — The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) questioned the methodology of an AAA distracted-driver study and pointed to a competing study that rebuts the AAA’s findings.

 The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that voice control of car functions and listening and responding to emails via text-to-speech and speech-to-text conversion raised “mental workload and distraction levels” to a level that invites “extensive risk” to drivers and passengers.

The foundation said it wants to work with the automotive and CE industries to find ways to limit the use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities such as climate control and windshield wipers and ensure the applications do not lead to increased safety risk.

The group also wants to disable certain features of voice-to-text technologies for email, text messaging, and  social-media apps to render them inoperable while a vehicle is moving and educate vehicle owners and mobile device users about the safety risks of in-vehicle technologies.

“There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies,” said AAA president/CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. “It’s time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free.”

The foundation came to its conclusion after hiring a research team that measures brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to determine the mental workload of drivers when they try to do multiple things at once. The team used cameras mounted inside a car to track eye and head movement, a device that records driver reaction time in response to triggers of red and green lights added to their field of vision, and an electroencephalographic-equipped skull cap that charted brain activity to determine mental workload.

The team found that listening to the radio was a category 1 distraction with minimal risk, talking on a hand-held phone or with a hands-free accessory created a level 2 moderate risk, and listening to email and responding by voice created a level 3, or extensive, risk.

CEA pointed to a recent study by Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute. The study, sponsored by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), found that “hands-free, voice-activated devices constitute no increased safety risks,” CEA said.

The AAA-sponsored study, CEA continued, “suffers from a number of methodology flaws,” given that the study can’t be considered “naturalistic” because “it relied on young drivers in unfamiliar cars, wearing a type of helmet and driving on a defined course when compared to studies which track real drivers in real situations. “

CEA contended that the CE industry is “at the forefront of innovating technologies that make the driving experience safer for everyone on our roadways.” The association also encouraged AAA to educate its membership “to use consumer electronics appropriately and in accordance with state laws when behind the wheel.”