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Facebook Behind the Wheel

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FacebookCalifornia law firm GJEL Accident Attorneys rates dashboard social media at the top of its list of the five most dangerous distractions to drivers. With the much touted integration of Facebook into OnStar, it behooves us to look at some of the data. Does hands-free social media make it more distracting to drive, or will it free up attention for driving?

Some disturbing numbers, shared with us by David Strayer on the Car Talk Distracted Driving Center, point towards the latter:

A study published about 10 years ago in the journal Human Factors by John Lee and Tim Brown tested this type of system. A computer read e-mail messages to the driver and the driver composed messages with voice commands (instead of using a computer to decipher the driver’s commands, a researcher typed the messages so that the speech to text worked perfectly).

The authors found that brake reaction time increased by 30% when the drivers were using this system.  They noted that such a system would increase both the likelihood and severity of crashes.  This doesn’t bode well for drivers using either the GM or Ford systems.

While voice recognition has improved since those numbers came out, it is nowhere near as good as having a human typist. This would almost certainly mean an even longer reduction in reaction time, at least in a significant number of cases. As anyone who has ever been in an car accident can attest, reaction time can mean the difference between walking away safely, and being severely injured in the crash.

Consumer Reports, in its 2010 Distracted Driving Summit, took a look at a number of factors that are only just beginning to be addressed. For example:

The automotive industry has voluntary guidelines to reduce distraction from telematics. However, these deal with the physical interface, not voice command systems like OnStar. Also, the guidelines deal with discrete tasks with a specific beginning and end. For example, entering a navigation system destination starts when you enter the menu structure and ends when you successfully accept the destination. That’s simple enough — although not that simple — to define. If OnStar allows continuous updates of friends’ status, is that ‘task’ a constant presence while driving? Or is the task over once you set up the update stream?

Here are links to some of our previous coverage of this topic:

Image by simiezzz (Simon Adriaensen), used under its Creative Commons license.

 

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