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New technology may challenge effort to reduce distracted driving accidents

Every year car accidents caused by distracted driving occur in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Legislators and members of law enforcement across the country have passed and enforced distracted driving laws in various states. It seems just as the law has caught up with technology, new developments in communications like voice-activated systems may challenge the law again.

Ninety-five percent of Americans believe that texting and driving is dangerous, and thirty-four states have laws against texting and driving, but car manufacturers continue to develop in-vehicle systems that allow drivers and passengers to use their phones with hands-free systems, to watch DVDs and to access social media.

One of the latest systems developed is the voice-activated Sync system by Ford. Sync allows drivers to connect with the system over Bluetooth and it reads text messages aloud. To respond, drivers select one of 15 messages automatically created by the system. Examples of the preset messages include, “I’m on my way,” and “I can’t talk right now.” Other motor companies like BMW and General Motors offer similar systems, and General Motor’s system even allows drivers to access and write messages on Facebook.

Car companies say the demand for such systems comes from consumers and automakers assert they are delivering desired communications technology in the safest way possible. Safety advocates are not as keen on the in-vehicle communications developments.

A representative from the Governors Highway Safety Association says even though drivers are encouraged to do “everything but drive,” driving needs to be the central focus.

Hands-free and voice-activated systems may also challenge current distracted driving laws like the one in Louisiana. Many distracted driving laws were created with the thought that drivers physically tap out messages as they drive instead of telling onboard communication devices what to write. Legislators may have to go back and determine whether the new technology interferes with the objective of the law.

Source: The Washington Post, “Automakers embrace hands-free text-messaging technology,” Ashley Halsey III, Oct. 24, 2011

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