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Research Shows that Hands-Free is Not Risk Free
Voice-driven, in-vehicle technologies have become increasingly common with peoples' desire to stay connected by texting, talking on the phone or even using Facebook. New findings from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah show that dangerous distractions can exist even when drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, undermining driver attention and impairing safe driving abilities. This research examines the mind of the driver, and highlights the mental, or cognitive, distractions caused by a variety of tasks performed behind the wheel.
The research team at the University of Utah measured brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to assess what happens to drivers' mental workload when they attempt to do multiple things at once. Drivers engaged in common tasks, from listening to an audio book or talking on the phone, to listening and responding to voice-activated emails while behind the wheel.
The findings show that even when a driver's eyes are on the road and hands are on the wheel, cognitive distractions where their mind is not focused on the task of driving cause significant impairments, such as:

  • Suppressed brain activity in the areas needed for safe driving;
  • Slower reaction time (to peripheral detection test and to a vehicle braking ahead);
  • Missed cues and decreased accuracy (to peripheral detection test); and
  • Decreased visual scanning of the driving environment (tunnel vision, of sorts)

The research provides some of the strongest evidence yet that "hands-free" doesn't mean risk free. Motorists should focus on the road when driving and only use potentially distracting technologies while safely parked. AAA Driver Training Programs is developing a brochure Distracted While Driving-What's on YOUR Mind? that will be available for purchase at the beginning of October.
The full report is posted on the AAAFTS site. AAA also created a seven-minute video about the research.
Hertz Expands into Car Sharing with "Hertz 24/7"
Following the success of companies like ZipCar and Car2Go where people can rent cars for short periods of time, Hertz is now offering similar services. Called "Hertz 24/7," the service allows drivers to rent cars by the hour or by the day, using their computer or phone. Rental cars are located in areas convenient to the customer and can be picked up any time of day. Users can even select different vehicle sizes when making reservations online. Fuel and insurance are included in the service, so there's no need to address those details every time a driver wants to rent a car. After signing up with Hertz and receiving a scan card, the user just hops in the car, drives it, and returns it to the same or another Hertz 24/7 location.
Hertz 24/7 is currently available on more than 60 university campuses in the U.S., as well as major cities including San Antonio, TX, Washington, D.C., and Boston, MA. International locations are available as well--Paris, anyone?
Of course, there are some safety concerns regarding any rental vehicle—drivers can fail to adjust the vehicle to fit them ergonomically, they may be unfamiliar with a new vehicle's blind spots and response to inputs, and there are instances when the driver doesn't report vehicle or other property damage when it occurs. Not every licensed driver needs a car or wants the responsibilities of owning a car, but Hertz 24/7 is there to serve the driver who needs a car every once in a while.

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