BEND, OR -- A report released Thursday by the AAA Foundation shines new light on just how distracted drivers can be, even when using hands-free devices. Marie Dodds, with AAA Oregon, tells KBND researchers were surprised by the residual effects of using the technology behind the wheel. "If you interact with your car’s infotainment system or your smartphone, the distractions can linger for as long as 27 seconds after you stop. So, let’s say you’re stopped at a red light or a stop sign, and you take that time to change your music or send a text. And then the light turns green and you stop interacting, it can take 27 seconds after you start moving again before you’re fully focused on driving." That 27 seconds is equal to traveling three football fields, at just 25 miles per hour.
Dodds believes distractions could be alleviated if automakers designed better on-board systems. "Some of the hands-free technology that we have is very cumbersome and difficult to use. And, some of these systems have menus and submenus and some aren’t very good at translating your speech, for example, and getting to the task at hand. We had folks in our research project who would say, for example, ‘call home.’ And the system would come back with something like, ‘I cannot find that station on Pandora right now.’" Dodds adds, "It is possible to design systems that are fairly simple to use and would cause no more distraction than if you were having a conversation with a passenger or changing the radio station."
In the end, she says the responsibility lies with drivers who don't realize that just because the technology is available and legal doesn’t mean it’s safe. "The bottom line is, if you’re a consumer, be aware that hands free is not risk free."
Researchers compared the residual effects of distraction in a variety of systems and said on-board technology in the Chevy Equinox and Buick Lacrosse performed best, leaving moderate distraction levels. The system inside the Mazda 6 performed the worst.