Automaker Ford has rightfully been praised in recent weeks for supporting New York legislation to ban distracted driving. This week, the auto giant became the first of it’s industry to endorse a ban against texting and talking behind the wheel, but as Streetsblog points out, their endorsement allows a major loophole that could stand in the way of the campaign to eliminate distracted driving car accidents. Although the bill prohibits the use of handheld devices behind the wheel, it permits the use of auto technology to facilitate hands-free conversations, which can still be distracting and potentially dangerous.
“Ford believes hands-free, voice-activated technology significantly reducees that risk by allowing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road,” said Ford Vice President Pete Lawson in a press release. But anti-distracted driving organization Focus Driven, a branch of the Department of Transportation, has said that technology that makes it easier to talk while driving don’t help the problem. “Studies show hands-free devices provide no safety benefit,” writes Focus Driven on its webpage. “It’s the conversation, not the device, that creates the danger.”
That’s what New York Times Personal Technology Editor Sam Grobert round when he tested some popular anti-distracted driving technology options for the newspaper’s website. Grobart found that the Ford Focus My Ford Touch system’s touch screen actually required more driver attention than a regular cell phone, Acura’s solution relied on too many confusing high-tech buttons, and the Audi A8’s touch pad required too steep a learning curve. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable using any of these systems at highway speeds,” he concluded.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that distracted driving kills nearly 6,000 and injures 500,000 each year. A recent NHTSA study reported that distracted driving enforcement programs have succeeded in reducing the number of distracted drivers but that there’s no evidence that accidents have decreased. That could be because drivers continue to use hands-free technology to talk while driving. This adds to evidence that dangerous distracted driving technologies that make it easier to talk while driving don’t help the problem. Instead, safety advocates and auto companies should advocate putting down the phone while driving in order to reduce car accidents and improve driver safety.