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Triple-A says “hands free” devices don’t translate to safe driving

(Radio Iowa) – Many new cars on Iowa’s roads are packed with high-tech gadgets that let us make phone calls, change radio stations and even turn on the wipers with voice commands. A new report finds those devices may be putting everyone on the road at risk. Gail Weinholzer, at Triple-A-Iowa, says it’s the most comprehensive study ever done on hands-free “infotainment” systems in our vehicles.

“We used cameras mounted on the dashboard to track head and eye movement, we used a special EEG skull cap to chart brain wave activity and we used a device that measures reaction time to various stimuli,” Weinholzer says. “All three were very conclusive that a distracted driver isn’t even aware that they’re distracted.”

Some features in new vehicles let the driver update their Facebook status while rolling down the interstate. While the futuristic technology may be alluring, Weinholzer says it’s dangerous and those gizmos should not be used while the car is moving.

“We need to be more aware of the distractiveness of these features,” Weinholzer says. “It’s interesting as AAA nationally did a survey just this past year and 71% of all drivers believed that hands-free is risk-free and 50% of all drivers believed infotainment systems are not distracting. Both of those statistics could not be further from the truth.”

The report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows mental distractions are dangerous even when drivers have their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. The motor club is making an appeal to both the auto-making and technology industries.

“Think about limiting some of the things they have as far as functionalities that are not necessary to the driving of the vehicle,” Weinholzer says. “We certainly want them to disable many of these functions while the vehicle is in motion, and finally, help us educate the driving public about the risks that are involved.”

About 9-million cars on America’s roads have the infotainment systems now, but in 5 years, the number is predicted to be 62-million.