Distracted driving: Are hands-free cell phones safe for drivers?

Although hands-free cellphones are marketed as less distracting than hand-held phones, they are still a source of cognitive distraction.

Most drivers in Connecticut and across the country are aware of the dangers that come with using a cell phone while behind the wheel. In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and an additional 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In an attempt to minimize these deadly occurrences, a number of states, including Connecticut, have enacted legislation banning motorists from using hand-held cell phones while driving. One study in particular, however, focused on the actual safety of hands-free devices.

Hands-free vs. hand-held

Hand-held cell phones are a significant source of manual, visual and cognitive distraction. Hands-free cell phones are marketed as being a safe alternative to hand-held devices, as they reduce the amount of visual and manual distraction that drivers face while behind the wheel. A study published by AAA showed that the amount of cognitive distraction produced by hands-free cell phones is substantial, and this can be a major cause of serious car accidents.

Researchers asked participants in the study to engage in several different tasks while operating a simulator vehicle, as well as an actual vehicle that has been modified with monitoring devices. The tasks included the following:

  • Listening to the radio.
  • Listening to a book-on-tape.
  • Talking with another passenger in the vehicle.
  • Maintaining a conversation with someone using a hand-held device.
  • Speaking with someone over a hands-free cell phone.
  • Composing an email using voice-activated technology.

As participants drove and performed the tasks, researchers measured their brain activity, eye movement, response time, heart rate and blood pressure.

A look at the results

Surprisingly, the results showed that using a hands-free cell phone while driving was only slightly less distracting than using the hand-held model. Drivers using the hands-free cell phone still showed signs of cognitive distraction as their minds were unable to solely focus on the road. Listening to the radio was the least distracting while operating voice-activated technology was the most distracting.

Cognitive distraction

According to the National Safety Council, the brain cannot focus on two complex tasks simultaneously. Instead, it switches back and forth between one task and the other, leaving gaps in time where the mind is not concentrating on the road at all. Absolute focus can only take place when drivers do not use cell phones at all.

Obtaining legal counsel

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a catastrophic car accident in Connecticut caused by another person’s negligence, you may want to seek counsel from a personal injury attorney. You may be eligible for compensation for your injuries, property damage, emotional distress and lost wages from work.