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How Will Apple's CarPlay Affect Distracted Driving?

On Monday, Apple announced that its new in-car operating system will debut this year in new vehicles by Ferrari, Mercedes Benz and Volvo. The system, called CarPlay, essentially functions as a dashboard iPhone, allowing drivers to respond to texts, make phone calls, play music, navigate and more, all with an Apple interface similar to that of the iPhone.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of CarPlay is that drivers will be able to give voice commands to Siri in order to accomplish pretty much everything they can do on the iPhone, so the system will have hands-free capabilities. And Apple is touting this as the company's answer to distracted driving: Greg Joswiak, Apple's VP of iPhone and iOS product marketing, said in a statement that the system will result in "minimized distraction" for drivers.

Will CarPlay really cut down on distracted driving? Or will it simply change the nature of the distractions available to drivers? It's hard to say. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how recent findings suggest that hands-free phone conversations are just about as distracting to drivers as phone conversations on hand-held phones. This is because talking on the phone in the car uses the same parts of your brain that you need in order to be an effective driver, regardless of whether you're driving with one hand on the steering wheel or not. In light of this, will CarPlay just make it easier for drivers to talk on the phone and thus lead to more distraction?

Furthermore, will interacting with Siri on other matters become another added distraction that drivers did not previously have available to them? Is dictating a text message as distracting as typing one? Probably not. Still, though, CarPlay will broaden the scope of what drivers can legally do in the car. Where typing a text or any form of written communication is illegal, using CarPlay's hands-free system will make it legal, thus presenting drivers with new, expanded options for communicating in the car.

Apple is not stopping at the three high-end car manufacturers I mentioned before. In fact, close on the heels of Mercedes, Volvo and Ferrari are massive companies such as BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota. Once all these companies adopt CarPlay, likely in a couple years, perhaps then there will be a big enough sample size to study how the system affects distracted driving.

Ultimately, CarPlay is going to be a new test of this hands-free vs. hand-held question. Which will be the bigger distraction to drivers: holding a phone to talk, text or navigate, or having an entire hands-free operating system at your beck and call? Do you think CarPlay will help cut down on distracted driving, or will it contribute to it? And how will it affect the number of car accidents on the road? Please leave your opinion in the comments section.

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