Distracted Driving, Hands-Free

When you’re driving, which is worse in terms of distraction: talking while holding a cellphone, or talking on a hand-free device?

It turns out that they are about equally bad.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released the results of a study, which showed that the main problem is the amount of cognitive burden, or–in layman’s terms–how much actual thinking and mental processing you’re doing. Although we all get upset when we see unsafe drivers holding a phone and trying to make a turn into traffic, the one-handed-driving thing is less of a safety issue than the fact that the driver is talking on the phone. Driving and using a hands-free device is just as distracting as driving and talking on a hand-held phone.

As the AAA Foundation says in it’s report:  “Hands-free” doesn’t mean risk free.

Based on Science

Are you a good driver? How well do you think you can multi-task while driving? Is there a way to actually measure distraction and driving performance?

That’s exactly what scientists at the University of Utah set out to do, and they created a unique “cognitive cap” that measures what a person’s brain and eyes are doing at all times. Then, the researchers put test subjects in a car and distracted them in various ways–having them listen to the radio, listen to an audio book, talk on a phone, and even interact with a hand-free voice-activated email device. To see exactly how the experiments were performed, watch this video:


The results show that distractions are mild for listening to the radio or to an audio book. Distractions are moderate–and about equal–for talking while holding a phone, talking on a hands-free device, and talking to a passenger in the car. Distractions were worst when drivers used a speech-to-text device.

According to the AAA Foundation:

Driver distraction is increasingly recognized as a significant source of injuries and fatalities on the roadway. In fact, NHTSA estimated that inattention accounted for 25 percent of all police-reported crashes.

Other estimates have suggested that inattention was a factor in as many as 35-50 percent of all crashes. More recently, data from the 100-car naturalistic driving study found that inattention was a factor in 78 percent of all crashes and near crashes, making it the single largest crash causation factor in their analysis.

The results of this study suggest that we are all more distracted than we think, and that and additional sources of potential distraction should be avoided if at all possible. Texting while driving is illegal in North Carolina, but speech-to-text devices will no doubt become standard as a motor vehicle “upgrade” in future years. If the industry won’t put the brakes on distraction, we have to do it ourselves.

Just say “no” to looking at that Facebook photo…calling a friend…sending an email.

Say “no” to superfluous distractions.

Get home safely.

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