Skip to main content

In the first half of 2016, there were 17,775 people in the United States who died in car accidents. This was a significant increase in fatalities compared with the number of people who died in car accidents during the same time period in 2015. The increases in motor vehicle accident fatalities comes after many years during which death rates in auto accidents declined. It is the biggest year-to-year rise in the rate of fatalities in car accidents in the past 50 years. Mobile technology is likely the big reason why such a dramatic increase happened.

In recent years, many car manufacturers have begun investing heavily in the development and installation of in-vehicle infotainment systems. These systems have become so popular, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recently released two-part guidelines addressing their increased use.

In the first part of the new guidelines, NHTSA detailed new safety procedures that car manufacturers could implement in their in-car infotainment systems. In the second part of the new guidelines, NHTSA offered suggestions for the integration of after-market products with the in-vehicle infotainment systems.

One big reason why these infotainment systems are being invested in and developed is because of a belief they will actually make cars safer since drivers can talk to these systems instead of using their phones as they hold the devices in their hands. Unfortunately, there is some doubt about whether this is making things better or making things worse.

New York Times reported the president of the National Safety Council and former chairwoman of the federal National Transportation Safety Board, has expressed concern these systems are actually improving road safety but instead are just increasing interaction with phones and technology. This is a problem, because these technologies are not necessarily safer just because they don’t require motorists to take their hands off the wheel.

National Safety Council has issued a warning that hands free is NOT risk free. When a driver is focused on electronic devices, even if the motorist is talking to the electronics but not holding the electronics, this diverts brain energy from paying attention to driving. Drivers could miss seeing as much as 50 percent of what is in front of them on the road! Not only that, but the amount of brain activity devoted to driving significantly decreases for the duration of the time the motorist is doing anything other than driving.

Motorists often mistakenly believe they are being safe if they are talking to their devices hands-free instead of typing on them or holding them.  This is simply not the case and these drivers are all contributing to the troubling spike in car accident fatalities. Motorists simply need to say no to distractions, including those caused by the use of hands-free infotainment systems which are likely to show up in their vehicle.