Car manufacturers say drivers want hands-free text messaging tech

Distracted driving is the cause of many car accidents in Albany, New York and other areas of the country. As a result state legislators and police departments have passed laws and raised awareness to prevent car accidents caused by distracted driving. It seems just as states have passed distracted driving laws, new technology developments like in-vehicle voice-activated systems may challenge the objective of current distracted driving laws.

The vast majority of Americans, 95 percent, believe that texting and driving is dangerous, and thirty-four states have laws against texting while behind the wheel. Even so, car manufacturers have developed an assortment of communications options available to drivers and passengers in the form of access to social media, DVD players, GPS navigation systems and hands-free communication. The latest communications development among car manufacturers is voice-activated technology.

Ford's voice-activated system called Sync allows drivers to connect their cellphones through Bluetooth. Sync reads text messages aloud and allows drivers to respond to text message with one of 15 preset text messages that drivers choose from on a touch screen. Examples of the preset text messages include "I can't talk right now," or "I'm on my way." Other motor vehicle companies like BMW and General Motors offer similar systems. General Motors' OnStar system even allows users to listen to Facebook messages and compose updates.

Car manufacturer lobbyist groups say they are giving consumers what they want with the safest technology available, but safety advocates are not so sure. The spokesperson for the Governors Highway Safety Association said that the in-vehicle communications systems encourage drivers "to do everything but drive."

When it comes to distracted driving laws, states with such laws may have to review whether current laws apply to the voice-activated and hands-free systems. Many initial distracted driving laws were written with the idea that drivers sent and read text messages with a handheld device. The question will be whether the hands-free technology distracts in the same way.

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


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