Driving study shows risks associated with hands-free devices

10179256_sDistracted driving is defined by the United States government as inattention due to any activity that distracts from the task of driving, and it has become a major safety concern as drivers’ use of smart phones has become so prevalent. In 2012, more than 3,000 deaths and over 400,000 injuries  occurred as a direct result of the use of hand-held devices.

Law enforcement officials and state and local government initiatives have made many attempts to reduce the number of drivers conversing on hand-held devices by enforcing heavy fines. A study by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety indicates that automobile accidents are not significantly reduced by replacing hand-held devices with hands-free devices, and that these initiatives may need to be refocused in order to truly increase safety on the roadways.

Measuring cognitive distraction

According to the results of the AAA research, conversations conducted on a hand-held phone are not the most distracting task for drivers. Many common driver tasks affect attention and the ability to drive safely. Researchers assigned ratings to various tasks that interfere with cognitive ability based on the level of distraction they cause. The tests were conducted in a laboratory, a vehicle simulation and an instrumented vehicle. The mental workload of each task was evaluated in several ways, including the following:

  • Surveys
  • Brain activity
  • Eye movement
  • Reaction times
  • Following distances 

Potential distractions include listening to music or a recorded book, talking to another person in the vehicle, on a hand-held device and on a hands-free device, and using a speech-to-text program.

Rating cognitive distractions 

The study found that many of these sources of mental distraction cause delays in reactions, missed cues, reduced brain activity and less awareness of the driving environment, all of which have the potential to result in a car accident. Of the distractions studied, music or recorded books do not distract the driver significantly, but conversations do distract the driver. It does not make much difference if the conversation is held with a passenger, on a hand-held device or on a hands-free device. Using a speech-to-text program ranks as the most distracting of these tasks, even though many automobile manufacturers market them as a safety feature.

Visual, manual and cognitive distractions all have the potential to cause serious injury to the driver, passengers and others, yet in spite of the dangers, many drivers continue to ignore the warnings. An experienced attorney can help victims of automobile accidents to understand their options and the protection afforded by the legal system.