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Despite all the concern about distracted driving, our vehicles are becoming hubs of interaction. General Motors (GM) has been at the forefront of adding technology to their vehicles, and one of their latest additions is called “Marketplace.” The National Safety Council (NSC), however, has warned that this app, like so many others, may contribute to distracted driving, which is already causing a rise in accidents on the roadways.

NSC Warns that In-Dashboard Apps are Dangerous

“Marketplace” is a new in-car shopping application that allows vehicle owners to purchase food, coffee, and other products through the vehicle’s in-dash touchscreen. GM has announced that it will launch the app on millions of 2017 and 2018 model year vehicles that are equipped with Wi-Fi hotspots and systems compatible with the app.

Though GM says the app is designed to be in line with current voluntary driver-distraction guidelines, the NSC warns that the new addition is unsafe. President Deborah Hersman told Bloomberg: “There’s nothing about this that’s safe. If this is why they want Wi-Fi in the car, we’re going to see fatality numbers go up higher than they are now.”

GM, on the other hand, believes the app will be a safer alternative for drivers than placing similar orders for products via their smartphones. They add that with Marketplace, users have to complete only three to four steps to make their order, which is fewer than they’d have to complete on their phones. But this ease of use is exactly why the app may be distracting, as it may encourage drivers to use it more.

“Hands-free systems are not safer,” Hersman told The Drive. She added that just because these features are available in the vehicle does not mean drivers should use them.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that distracted driving caused 3,477 fatalities in 2015, and nearly 400,000 injuries. They add that during daylight hours, about 660,000 drivers use cell phones while driving, creating “enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads.”

NSC Warns that In-Dashboard Apps are Dangerous

Indeed, studies have shown that hands-free is not risk-free. In 2015, research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that hands-free technologies created mental distractions even if drivers kept their eyes on the road.

For the study, researchers compared a variety of hands-free options, including systems built into the dash of vehicles and smartphones. They then rated the level of distraction created by each. The 2015 Mazda 6 dashboard device was deemed the most distracting, while the Chevy Equinox was deemed the least, but all increased distracted driving. Researchers warned that drivers should rethink using these systems. “The lasting effects of mental distraction pose a hidden and pervasive danger that would likely come as a surprise to most drivers,” Peter Kissinger, president and chief executive of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said in a press release.

Other studies have shown that trying to do another task while driving is simply distracting and dangerous. In 2016, researchers from the University of Sussex conducted two experiments to evaluate how distraction disrupted hand and eye movements while participants were behind the wheel. In the first one, they had them view and respond to two driving films containing hazards. The first group completed the task without distraction, and the second group completed the task while having to do another telephone task at the same time. A third group completed a phone task alone.

In the second experiment, researchers tracked the eye movements from participants while they reacted to hazards presented in 16 films of driving scenes. Half of those participants performed another task at the same time.

Results showed that compared to undistracted participants, those who were doing two tasks at once were slower to respond to hazards, detected fewer hazards on the road, committed more “looked but failed to see” errors, and demonstrated “visual tunneling,” a phenomenon where the driver sees objects only in the center of his or her field of vision.

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