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Distraction-Free Tech for Driving

AAA and automakers fight distracted driving with better technology.

By
Christopher Null
car viewed from overhead on curvy two-lane road at sunset, picture
Photo credit
Photo: David H. Collier
Photo caption
New car tech helps drivers stay safely in their lanes.

Distracted driving is an epidemic in the United States. A road safety analytics firm discovered in a recent study that drivers now use handheld devices on 88 out of 100 trips, whether it's legal or not (mostly, it's not).

And AAA research has shown distraction isn't just a matter of texting or talking. It's a complex set of problems such as attention lapses and taking your hands off the wheel. Texting at a red light, for example, still causes residual interference up to 27 seconds later. The good news: Driver education, automakers collaborating with AAA, and tech companies are all helping motorists focus on the task at hand—driving safely.

Improve Tech, Improve Attention

One of the biggest perils while driving is absentmindedly drifting out of your lane. To combat this, lane departure warning (LDW) systems—ranging from steering wheels that vibrate when a vehicle crosses traffic lines to controls that tug the car back on track—work to keep a driver alert. Nissan says that LDW is a key part of its new ProPilot Assist technology created to help drivers accelerate, brake, and steer.

Honda Driver Attention Monitor, which debuted on the 2017 CR-V EX, is also impressive. It measures how often and how hard the steering wheel is turned. If it senses unusual movements, the dashboard sends increasingly urgent alerts, culminating in audible beeps and steering wheel vibrations that jolt the driver to attention. Chris Martin of American Honda says the feature will be standard on every Accord in 2018.

Another approach to preventing crashes is to remove the source of distraction altogether. With its latest iOS release, Apple took a step in this direction by offering Do Not Disturb While Driving, which disables an iPhone screen for most purposes while your car is moving. Third-party apps such as DriveMode from AT&T function similarly and also work on Android phones.

Beware Built-In Video Screens

Sometimes, however, the problem is the technology itself. A 2017 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety measured consoles and infotainment systems in 30 cars, rating them on a distraction scale from low to very high.

According to clinical research conducted by the University of Utah in partnership with the foundation, car dashboards on 23 recent models rated high to very high. Seven models caused moderate distraction, and none were rated low. That means we have a long way to go before we can create an ideal driving environment.

This article was first published in Spring 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.