Distracted Driving: Hands Free Does Not Mean Risk Free

Today’s motorists have hands-free mobile devices and fixed communication and entertainment systems in their cars. Is all this new technology safe?

According to a new study by the Automobile Association of America (AAA), the answer is decidedly no. The study used advanced technology to measure not only the physical, but mental distraction faced by drivers challenged by cell phones, radios and infotainment units built into their cars. Participants performed three tasks in different environments and under different conditions.

The research identified three types of distraction, eyes off the road (visual), hands off the wheel (physical) and mind off the road (mental). AAA sought to evaluate the common belief that hands-free communication is considerably safer than the use of hands-on cellular technology.

Some startling results of the study include:

  • Motorists using hands-free cell phones to send messages are approximately two times more distracted than drivers who do not use cell phones. They are three times more distracted if using an in-dash computer or communication system.
  • The study identified sources of cognitive distraction that included listening to the radio or an audiobook, talking with a passenger, talking on a cell phone or hands-free phone or interacting with a speech-to-text dash system.
  • Cognitive distraction caused decreased neural activity and visual scanning, increased reaction time and a higher number of missed cues, or inattention blindness.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving contributes to more than 3,000 deaths per year. Even as manufacturers rush to design more sophisticated car communication systems, this research recommends limiting and disabling such technology along with educating drivers about the pressing danger of cognitive distraction.

While a marvel, the human brain cannot truly multi-task. Stay off any phone and keep your attention on the road. If you are injured by a distracted driver, get good legal counsel.