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Are Efforts at Improving In-Car Tech Causing a Rise in Accident Risks?

Auto manufacturers are adding lots of tools to their cars which are designed to make it easier for motorists to interact with technology while driving. Often called infotainment systems, these in-vehicle systems let motorists talk to their cars and use their cell phones hands-free. The hope is that these systems will reduce the number of drivers who are looking at and holding their phone while driving, or who are looking at and entering data into GPS devices while driving. 

Unfortunately, there is some evidence to suggest that these in-car tech tools aren't helping and are actually hurting efforts to bring down distracted driving accident rates. Most troubling has been the major increase in car accidents which New York Times indicates can likely be attributed to technology.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released two part guidelines related to in-car technologies like infotainment systems. The guidelines were intended to address the safety of these systems and the anti-distraction features which can be implemented. Part I of the guidelines addressed the built in systems in cars and Part II addressed integration of aftermarket electronic devices.  The hope is that by making these systems work in a way that is focused on safety, crashes due to technology can start to decline.

Something clearly needs to be done to reduce the number of car accidents occurring due to distracted driving. New York Times indicates a 10.4 percent rise in car accident deaths in the first six months of 2016, compared with the first six months of 2015. With a total of 17,775 people dying in car accidents between January to June of 2016, this was the biggest year-to-year jump in deaths in the past 50 years. Tech is a big reason why this happened, as National Safety Council estimates about 26 percent of all car accidents today involve drivers using phones.

Unfortunately, the idea that in-vehicle infotainment system is going to solve this problem is likely a flawed idea. These hands-free systems may allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel but they don't actually stop drivers from being distracted.  A driver who is on the phone could miss as much as 50 percent of what is going on around him, significantly increasing crash risks- even if his hands are on the wheel. The brain simply is not able to multitask, so information gets lost when a driver is focused on his phone call. Further, as the president of the National Safety Council warned, these in-car tech systems may actually be encouraging motorists to interact even more with their phones.

No amount of distraction is safe for drivers, and the only way to help bring down the death rate in car accidents, rather than the number of fatalities continuing to rise, is for drivers to stop using their phones and actually pay attention to the road. If a driver fails in that, the driver must be held accountable for the tragic consequences of his actions.

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