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As vehicle tech gear improves, will auto accident rates rise?

Fewer generations have seen a wider range of change than those of us alive today. The advent of the Internet, in particular, has changed the way that we work, play and communicate. The ability to interact in real time and gain a wealth of data within a few keystrokes is nothing short of astounding, and has led to a multitude of improvements in the quality of our lives. There are, however, disadvantages to living in a world in which more and more of our time is spent 'wired, ' and many believe that increased auto accident statistics in Massachusetts and elsewhere are the likely outcome of a new wave of technologically advanced vehicles.

Consumer demand for the ability to remain connected while on the road has led to what one industry insider refers to as an 'arms race' as automakers strive to meet this demand with cars equipped with sophisticated voice-activated technology. Some such vehicles allow drivers to compose email and text messages while driving. Others simply stream phone calls and other incoming data through the vehicle's existing sound system, allowing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel while making and receiving calls.

Many who have looked at this issue believe that these types of technological advances, which are designed to improve the safety of drivers and passengers, can actually increase the risk of a serious car accident. This is due to the cognitive distraction imposed on the human brain when trying to compose written communications while also attending to the workload of operating a car or truck. Simply put, drivers must process a continuous stream of constantly changing data while driving, including shifting traffic patterns, road signs and signals, and basic navigation needs. This is before other factors complicate matters, such as inclement weather or the actions of other drivers.

There is a push to limit the type of technology that is integrated into newly manufactured vehicles. With increased research and statistics on the issue, regulations could be put into place that prohibit use of communications devices while driving, even if such activities could be conducted completely hands-free. Until then, the best defense that Massachusetts drivers can employ against the risk of an auto accident is to remain alert and aware while on the road, with the understanding that other drivers may not meet that same level of vigilance.

Source: The New York Times, "Voice-Activated In-Car Systems Are Called Risky," Matt Richtel and Bill Vlasic, June 12, 2013

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