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Texting while driving is a relatively new problem. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Texting while driving is a relatively new problem. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Safety

Hands-free texting while driving a dangerous distraction Add to ...

One of the features often touted by car makers during the move to more hands-free wireless connectivity is the ability to send and reply to texts without actually typing on the miniature keyboard. While good in concept, it is still a dangerous distraction, one a recent report has identified as “cause for concern.”

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The report, from the Ottawa-based Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), concludes there is sufficient evidence to support countermeasures focused on “reducing, if not banning, this unsafe behaviour.”

Distracted driving has been a growing concern for road safety practitioners and legal and enforcement officials. There has been some progress with legislation aimed at preventing distracted driving, particularly the use of cellphones and a big push for wireless connectivity allowing hands-free use of phones. But the core issue of driver distraction has not been addressed.

TIRF says there are four primary types of driver distraction:

Visual: looking at something other than the road;

Auditory: hearing something unrelated to the task of driving;

Manual: manipulating something other than the vehicle controls;

Cognitive distraction: thinking about something other than driving.

“Hands-free voice texting while driving involves all four of these types of distraction,” TIRF says, adding: “To ban hand-held texting, while allowing hands-free texting, does not make for good public policy because both divert attention from driving.”

TIRF says there is definitive proof that texting while driving is a significant source of distraction and that this is especially significant for new young drivers due to the dangerous combination of inexperience and a proclivity to be attracted to and more readily adopt new communication technologies. “Not only are teens more inexperienced at driving, but, additionally, their brains are not fully developed, which makes them more susceptible to distractions and poor judgment,” the report says.

The report quotes a 2013 survey that found drivers under the age of 25 are more likely to send text messages or e-mails while driving. “Among 16-to-25-year-old respondents, approximately 70 per cent admitted to sending text messages or e-mails while driving compared to 14 per cent of all respondents.” It quotes another study that found that, while almost all drivers believe texting while driving is very unsafe, “young passengers are more reluctant than older passengers to speak up if the driver is texting behind the wheel.”

TIRF says teen drivers have the highest crash risk and are most vulnerable to distraction. It says allowing hands-free texting while driving only exacerbates the risks and warns against the simplistic approach of relying solely on legislation to address the problem. The highly-respected research entity suggests education and enforcement efforts be stepped up.

Distracted driving has become prevalent in the past decade, partially because of the growth of new technologies in vehicles. TIRF says these “convenience” technologies have added to usual distraction issues of adjusting increasingly complex audio and HVAC systems, talking to other passengers, eating, grooming, rubbernecking, etc. It says the “emergence of a new in-car technology that facilitates hands-free voice texting is only the most recent addition.”

The whole issue of texting while driving is relatively new, as is in-car voice-to-text technology. TIRF says few studies have been completed to date on this specific issue, but the actions and distractions are similar to others that have been studied extensively.

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