Hands-free devices no less distracting to drivers, according to study

The problem of distracted driving has garnered national attention. In an effort to combat the problem of drivers using hand-held cell phones and other personal electronics, auto manufacturers have begun to include more hands-free devices in their vehicles so that drivers can keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road while still accomplishing the same tasks. However, a study released by the American Automobile Association and the University of Utah in June 2013 demonstrated that hands-free devices are no less distracting for drivers than hand-held electronics and cell phones.

Hands-free devices in vehicles

More vehicles are coming equipped with so-called "infotainment" systems. Drivers can make phone calls, search the internet, read and respond to email, update social media sites, stream music and use navigation systems with voice-activated commands. According to a report produced by Visiongain, a London-based media company, the automobile infotainment technology market will reach $31.72 billion in 2013 and continue to have record growth over the next decade.

Auto manufacturers believe that including such technology in their vehicles will help reduce the number of auto accidents caused by distracted driving, since drivers will not need to use hand-held cell phones and personal electronics.

Cognitive distractions remain

Given the popularity of hands-free infotainment systems in vehicles, the AAA study aimed at discovering whether this technology really improved safety. Researchers had test subjects perform several common tasks that drivers often do while behind the wheel in a driving simulator, including having a conversation with a passenger in the vehicle, talking on a hand-held cell phone, talking on a hands-free cell phone, listening to the radio, listening to an audiobook and checking and responding to email with text-to-speech software.

Researchers monitored subjects' brain activity, brake reaction time, following distance and accuracy and reaction time to peripheral light tests while performing each of the tasks. They found that hands-free devices do not significantly reduce driver distraction, because drivers are still cognitively distracted. Test subjects had less brain activity available for driving tasks when using hands-free technology and took longer to respond to visual traffic cues. Drivers' reaction times increased, and they developed tunnel vision, rather than scanning the road and checking mirrors, while using hands-free technology.

The study found that drivers' cognitive distraction was about equal when having a conversation on a hand-held cell phone and having a conversation on a hands-free cell phone device. Drivers in the study were most distracted when reading and responding to email with text-to-voice software.

Talk to a lawyer

Drivers may think they are being safe when they use hands-free technology in their vehicles, but the AAA study shows that the safest thing to do while driving is simply drive. Those who try to multitask while behind the wheel end up causing auto accidents because they are not paying attention. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a distracted driver, speak with an experienced auto accident attorney who can help you recover proper compensation for your losses.