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In-car dashboard 'smart' technology is distracting, AAA warns

'Hands-free' apparently isn't enough when it comes to today's automative dashboard technology. 

By Matthew Shaer / June 12, 2013

A Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid leaves the assembly line at a plant in Germany in early June. A new AAA study suggests that new in-dash smart technology led to significantly slower reaction time for drivers.

Reuters

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Computer technology has long been a part of the car dashboard landscape, from large touchscreens to smart phone and MP3 player integration. And over the next few years, our cars are likely to become even more wired. Consider, for instance, the iOS in the Car platform that Apple unveiled recently at the WWDC conference in San Francisco: it's got music controls, infotainment options, and a feature that will allow you to send hands-free iMessages. 

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Is this a good thing for drivers? The AAA Foundation sure doesn't think so. In a study released today, the organization found that in-car smart technology regularly led to "suppressed brain activity, slowed reaction times, missed visual cues, and reduced visual scanning of the driving environment (think tunnel vision)."

The study was conducted at the University of Utah, and analyzed participants as they "drove" an automobile simulation. Six common tasks were studied, according to the AAA Foundation: "listening to the radio, listening to a book on tape, conversing with a passenger, conversing on a hand-held phone, conversing on a hands-free phone, and interacting with a speech-to-text email system."

Listening to the radio or a book on tape didn't have much of an effect, researchers found. But "phone conversations – whether hand-held or hands-free – and voice-based interactions with in-vehicle systems create significant levels of cognitive distraction." (No word on what happens to the driver's brain when he or she chats with a real, live passenger.) 

Unsurprisingly, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents BMW, Chrysler, and Ford, among other corporations, has attempted to play down some of the findings. In a statement given to the the AP, the group said it was "extremely concerned that it could send a misleading message, since it suggests that hand-held and hands-free devices are equally risky." 

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