While driving along the Kentucky roadways, it is not unusual to see drivers using their hand-held cellphones behind the wheel. Although it seems rather commonplace, this deadly act leads to thousands of car accident deaths and injuries every year.
Some states have enacted laws prohibiting motorists from using hand-held devices to talk or text while driving. Consequently, companies promote hands-free devices as safe alternatives to hand-held cellphones. Yet, studies show that even hands-free devices are not as safe as some people may think.
A look at cognitive distraction
Hand-held cellphones involve visual, manual and cognitive distractions. Hands-free cellphones, on the other hand, remove visual and manual distractions, as they allow drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road.
Yet, hands-free devices are still a significant source of cognitive distraction. When motorists attempt to focus on two tasks, such as maintaining a conversation and driving, their concentration switches back and forth between both tasks. This leaves moments where the driver is not focused on the road at all, leaving room for a serious accident to occur.
Cognitive distraction study
In a study released by AAA, researchers measured the amount of cognitive distraction caused by hands-free cellphones. Participants were asked to engage in the following tasks while talking on a hand-held and hands-free cellphone:
- Listen to the radio
- Listen to an audio book
- Talk to a passenger in the car
- Compose an email using voice-activated technology
Researchers measured drivers’ eye movement, brain activity, response time and heart rate. They found that hands-free cellphones were only slightly less distracting than hand-held devices, but still acted as a cognitive distraction.