The Hands-Free Georgia Act takes effect July 1.

Gridlock Guy: While apps become more hands-free, AAA warns systems still distracting

Driving with more functionality and conveniences behind the wheel, but also less distractions seems like a choice at divergent paths. That isn’t necessarily true, as newer technology features more voice commands and a sleeker integration into the bigger and bigger screens in vehicle infotainment systems. But recent AAA studies find that while these digital dashboards get better, they still cost far too much brain power for drivers. 

» RELATED: Study: Georgia cellphone law reduced distracted driving

While in-vehicle navigation, music, and texting may be built-in to the dashboards and hands-free, they still take drivers’ attention off the road. AAA’s most recent study that measured drivers’ maneuvers with both the technology and driving did so on about two dozen different vehicle models. It not only measured how distracted people are overall with this technology, but also which vehicles’ infotainment systems were most and least distracting. 

These studies found that, on average, a person is distracted for 40 seconds when programming navigation and that navigation and voice-to-speech (hands-free) texting are the most cognitively demanding tasks on these systems. The studies also show that Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto are easily more safe and less demanding than the various systems that manufacturers use. 

Sygic is a worldwide GPS company that hopes to become a part of these infotainment systems. The 15-year old Slovak company, which boasts 200 million downloads of its navigation app of the same name, is hoping to extend the idea of hands-free to another realm of the navigation experience: crash and road obstruction-reporting. 

Sygic Senior Global PR official Marek Lelovic said that the app will eventually be able to use the camera on a driver’s phone or that is already built into a vehicle to sense crashes, construction, stalls, and other road problems. 

"Artificial intelligence will not only recognize it, but will also warn other users," Lelovic explained. He said that the traffic info on this app will eventually be more accurate than competitors Google and Waze, because it can instantly get the data that the cams give it, from surrounding Sygic users, and from GPS titan TomTom. Lelovic said they are still working on ways to eliminate duplicate reporting of wrecks (a big problem that Waze has) and they hope that by next year they can have this technology more perfected and used by more commuters in the U.S. 

Another Sygic feature is the augmented reality of the route, as opposed to a digitized map. "We use augmented reality to show you the route in the real world," Lelovic said. This innovation will overlay road names and other route info onto a view of the roads that looks more similar to Google Earth or Street View. 

The WSB Traffic Team released the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App two years ago and we continue to work on some updates we would like to make the experience even easier to use with minimal distractions. For those that haven’t used it, the app’s biggest feature is our automatic audio traffic reports that play automatically (when you’re running the app in the background while you’re driving) when you drive near a big traffic problem. We also send push notifications to different geographical regions when bigger problems break out. And reporting crashes is as simple as pushing the phone button and calling the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center. 

We still very much value traffic experts - actual humans - to process and vet this information and decide what is best and most pertinent for commuters. 

There is no doubt that in-vehicle technology is continuing to improve, including ours. The idea of apps automatically detecting wrecks is the next step in decreasing distractions. But for every feature added, that’s a new item for drivers to look at and consider. As motorists, we need to do our best to decide what really is worth having at our fingertips when driving. Maybe making a call is, but not a hands-free text. Maybe eliminating reading emails hands-free is a way to minimize distractions. The conveniences will keep expanding. But heed AAA’s warning on trying to use them. Having the world at one’s fingertips is tempting, but the thing between those fingers - the steering wheel - is the most demanding and vital tool and responsibility. 

» RELATED: Georgia's distracted driving law: Have you put down your phone?

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.

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