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Bad Drivers

Facebooking While Driving Could Be Outlawed, Even If You Do It Hands-Free

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Thu, Jun 13, 2013 at 9:08 AM

click to enlarge ERIC CHU / FLICKR
  • Eric Chu / Flickr
Should hands-free communication behind the wheel -- talking, texting, emailing, even Facebooking -- become illegal? As cars become more and more connected to the Internet, there's growing concern about all the distracting activities you're able to do, even if you don't have to use your paws to do them.

You might call it productivity, but the AAA says it's dangerous. The organization has conducted the most comprehensive study of hands-free, in-car communication yet, and the results are not encouraging:

Going sans-manos isn't really much safer than talking with a headset to your ear.

University of Utah researchers sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety looked at brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to find out how a driver's "mental workload" is affected by hands-free communication.

Eye movements were assessed by cameras, red- and green-light responses were measured, and an electroencephalographic (EEG) skull cap was used to keep track of brainwaves.

Researchers found that listening to the radio was trumped by hands-free cellphone talk, which was itself outranked by "in-vehicle, voice-activated email features" when it came to increased mental workloads while on the road.

click to enlarge JIM ALDEN / FLICKR
  • Jim Alden / Flickr

In other words, telling Siri to email the office while you're trying to drive is one of the most distracting things you can do behind the wheel.

The AAA is most concerned with in-car, interactive "infotainment" systems that will see a five-fold increase in production in the next five years, according to the organization.

The AAA is calling for car companies to limit such systems to manipulating vehicle functions only -- climate control, windshield wipers, cruise control -- with texting, talking and Internet functions disabled while a vehicle is being driven.

The group also suggests that "policy makers" take a look at limiting the explosion in voice-activated infotainment. Sounds like more legal restraints on your in-car activity.

University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer, lead author of the study, says:

Just because you can update Facebook while driving doesn't mean that it is safe to do so. Don't assume that if your eyes are on the road and your hands are on the wheel that you are unimpaired. If you don't pay attention, then you are a potential hazard on the roadway.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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