Weekly Brief: AAA finds hands-free tech guilty of distracting drivers

In this week’s Brief: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Chrysler 200c, Hyundai Sonata, Microsoft Cortana, Mazda 6, Chevy Equinox, Buick Lacrosse, ENISA, EU, Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, MasterCard, General Motors, Octo Telematics, IBM and The Weather Channel.

Bad news folks: Hands-free technologies are just as distracting as touch screens in cars. New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests that speech-activated, voice-to-text systems do little if nothing to curb distraction, even if your eyes are on the road and your hands are on the wheel. Researchers found that distraction is worse among older drivers and that potentially unsafe levels of mental distraction can last for as long as 27 seconds after completing a distracting task in the worst-performing systems studied. Those included Chrysler 200c, Hyundai Sonata, Microsoft Cortana and, the worst, Mazda 6. Chevy Equinox and Buick Lacrosse performed the best, providing only “moderate distraction” (Rankings chart here).

What’s worrisome here is that carmakers, software suppliers, analysts, consultants and, yes, us car writers have turned to hands-free technologies as one of theanswers to distraction in the connected car — the solution that allows for engagement with connected tech while mitigating or eliminating related distracting behaviours that could lead to serious accidents. As this video reveals, we’ve still got a long way to go.

In other news, ENISA, the cybersecurity arm of the European Union, vowed to address cybersecurity in cars with a new dedicated team of experts come 2016. Those experts will meet with carmakers and software suppliers over the course of the year, then hash out security recommendations and potential legislation for carmakers come 2017. The ENISA announcement came a week after the US governmentproposed a new law to crack down on car hackers and carmakers failing to secure their cars.

Concept cars were on full display at the Tokyo Motor Show, starting with Nissan’s IDS Concept, an electric vehicle that features a “Pilot Drive” similar to Tesla’s recent AutoPilot software update. Press the button and the steering wheel retracts, the seats push back and the car takes over (video demonstration here). The performance style imitates the driver’s own preferences, from accelerating to braking to cornering. Nissan says Pilot Drive will be live by 2020. The company is currently piloting the feature on three Nissan Leafs at its Advanced Technology Center south of Tokyo.

Mercedes-Benz’s latest concept, Vision Tokyo, is “a trailblazing spatial experience”, “a hip living space – a chill-out zone in the midst of megacity traffic mayhem.” Strip the hyperbole away and you have an autonomous car with a lounge couch that fits five passengers. A jump seat and steering wheel pop out for traditional driving. Apps and maps are rendered in 3D courtesy of a hologram projector.

Mitsubishi showed off the eX, an electric cross-over SUV with a 248-mile range and a “Dynamic Shield” for a windshield. The latter is a fancy name for a head-up display that projects augmented reality images onto the glass, from lane identification to turning signals to pedestrian warnings. There’s also autonomous driving features baked into the advanced driver assistance system.

MasterCard rolled out a wireless payment program that turns everyday consumer products, including key fobs, into secure mobile wallets. General Motors is the first carmaker onboard, along with wearable technology company Nymi and jewellery company Ringly. Check out what paying for your life with your car keys would look like in this video.

Finally, if the speed limit is 65 and you’re driving 65, you’re a safe driver, right? Not if it’s a blizzard out and everyone else is driving 25 with their flashers on. That’s why Octo Telematics has integrated weather data from IBM and The Weather Channel into its algorithms for analysing driving habits. The new partnership will impact the Octo U pay-as-you-drive free mobile app, live in the UK, Italy and Spain.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.


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