Researchers: mental driving distractions replacing visual - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Researchers: mental driving distractions replacing visual

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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

 New cars are designed to keep a driver's hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, but experts at AAA say the latest technology should still be used cautiously. 

 It's commonly known that texting and allowing mobile devices to distract us are some of the most dangerous behaviors we can engage in while driving - right next to driving while intoxicated. 

 Fort Benning has taken the added measure of banning all cell phone use behind the wheel, even though just making a call is legal in the rest of the state. 

 Salesmen at Carl Gregory Chrysler Jeep and Dodge say that's why soldiers on post are some of the biggest buyers of hands-free technology like Uconnect.

 "They don't want people texting or using cell phones to get around post, because that's a good way to get into an accident so when you have hands free telephone calling, all you have to do is push a button and say call home, or call work, or whatever you want to do.  And Chrysler has the most intuitive system on the market right now," said Carl Gregory salesman, Larry Hall.

 But according to a study sponsored by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the new technology does not eliminate distractions entirely. Researchers measured a driver's brain activity while multi-tasking and ranked levels of distraction on a five point scale.  The study shows that even music playing from a radio causes a little distraction, scoring a one on that scale, but listening to the car read your e-mails and text messages scored a three. 

 Chrysler's Uconnect deals mainly with vehicle controls and voice calls and doesn't have a text feature.  Acura has included audio texts for Blackberry users in their new cars but they limit your responses to pre-existing answers to cut down on distraction.

"You can't say, 'Hi honey I'm busy right now, I'll call you back later.'  You have to choose one of the pre-existing six messages, which is a safety feature," said Acura of Columbus client advisor, Ernest Lyons.

 The object of the AAA study is to shed light on the lesser known mental distractions they claim are taking the place of visual distractions.

 The researchers behind these findings admit that voice-activated technology is a vast improvement over hand-held alternatives, and they applaud its use for vehicle controls like windshield wipers, temperature and cruise control.  It's only the text message, e-mail, and in some cases, social media capabilities that have them concerned.

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