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Distracted driving has become a big problem now that we all have smartphones. With all your music on your phone, texts coming in nonstop, directions to where you are going right there on your phone display and the occasional voice call coming in, it’s really tempting to pick up that iPhone and look. Don’t do it. Using a hand held device while driving a vehicle is illegal in every province (except Nunavut). And it’s just plain dangerous. However, there is a solution and a pretty elegant one at that. Upgrade your in-car entertainment system with a new Pioneer audio deck and go hands-free!

Why You Need to Go Hands-Free

When you’re driving a vehicle, your focus needs to be on driving. Looking away—even for the moment it takes to glance at a text message on your smartphone—can have deadly consequences. Don’t believe me? Here are some sobering stats…

Sign.jpgAccording to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), distracted driving caused more traffic fatalities in 2013 than impaired driving or speeding did, killing 78 people in the province. A 2010 Virginia Tech study found that texting drivers were 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near miss than non-distracted drivers. And the Ontario Ministry of Transportation says that taking their eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles a driver’s chances of being in a crash.

As a result of the distracted driving issue, all provinces except Nunavut have passed legislation banning the operation of electronic devices by drivers—unless they are used in a hands-free manner.

The penalties for distracted driving are stiff. In eight of the provinces (including BC and Ontario) using a smartphone while driving will cost demerit points; in all but one province, the driver will be fined (anywhere from $100 to $400). Get caught endangering someone else while distracted driving and fines can rise to as high as $2,000. And penalties are getting even tougher—Ontario has proposed legislation that would raise fines to $300-$1,000 for being caught texting or talking on a hand-held phone while driving.

Inn other words, going hands-free isn’t just the right thing to do and the safe thing to do, it could save you a lot of money.

So What Is “Hands-Free” Anyway?

It would help to explain exactly what we mean by hands-free.

The goal of a hands-free audio system is to enable the driver to interact with their smartphone without physically touching it or having to look at it. The device is paired with the vehicle’s entertainment system (usually by a Bluetooth wireless connection or USB) and from that point, the driver interacts with their smartphone by voice and/or by using their audio deck’s controls.

At the most basic level, this means music on the smartphone is played through the vehicle’s audio system and to switch tracks, pause or adjust the volume, the car audio system’s controls are used—not the smartphone.

If the driver needs to make a voice call, the smartphone’s microphone and voice commands are used to place the call, while the audio is routed through the in-dash system.

CarPlay Is the Ultimate in Hands-Free

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Hands-free can be a lot more than simply streaming your smartphone music and making voice calls. Right now, one of the most feature rich hands-free implementations is Apple CarPlay—a feature supported by Pioneer NEX audio decks (like the AVH-4000NEX) as a Canadian first. Here’s the kind of advanced hands-free functionality a CarPlay compatible deck combined with your iPhone can offer (iPhone 5 and up required):

  

  • Onscreen Maps turn-by-turn navigation
  • Full phone integration include Siri voice calling and voicemail playback
  • Siri text message capability—send, read and reply
  • Full music integration with the NEX audio deck, including access by Artists, Songs, Playlists, Podcasts, streaming radio apps and others, with control using NEX or Siri

For a more information on CarPlay and Pioneer’s NEX audio decks (the first in Canada to support this new standard), check out my recent NEX overview.

Most Pioneer audio decks that don’t offer CarPlay support will still let you either use an iPhone 4s or newer for Siri Eyes Free (a predecessor to CarPlay), or plug in virtually any iPhone or iPod Touch to play and control music.

Is Hands-Free an Apple Only Thing? 

While CarPlay is getting a lot of attention these days, hands-free is definitely not limited to Apple iPhones. 

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Many of Pioneer’s audio decks also support Android device control. Connect a supported Android smartphone (Android 4.0/KitKat is usually the minimum requirement) and you can play the music from the device through the car audio system, using the Pioneer deck to control everything.

Even better, Pioneer NEX decks will soon be Android Auto compatible, another standard that offers serious integration (this time with Android smartphones) to let drivers make the most of their mobile devices in a hands-free mode.

How New Does a Vehicle Have to Be?

The great thing about aftermarket car audio decks is that they let you get advanced functionality like hands-free smartphone support without the expense of buying a new vehicle.

I love my truck, but it’s a few years old now and its audio system is basically a CD player. I always have my iPhone with me, but there is absolutely no integration offered by the factory sound system—no USB port, no Bluetooth, no auxiliary inputs. That means my iPhone stays in my pocket. No music, no navigation and definitely no phone calls or texting. 

I am hands-free in the most archaic way possible.

I could replace the truck with a 2015 model, one of the new vehicles that offers Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support. That is a serious investment.

For less than a monthly payment on a replacement vehicle, I can get one of those Pioneer NEX audio decks and get the ultimate, state-of-the-art solution to hands-free driving. Or, for not much more than I’d pay for a fill-up (even with gas prices down as much as they are), I could pick up a Pioneer audio deck that lets me plug in my iPhone or Android smartphone for hands-free music playback.

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A new audio deck—even something as advanced as a Pioneer NEX—can match the hands-free capabilities of the latest cars, no matter how old your vehicle is. Even owning a “classic” is no excuse to be safer and enjoy better sound while you’re driving.

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Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.

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