Study: Hands-free systems don’t eliminate risks of distracted driving
A new study shows that hands-free technology creates lingering cognitive distraction, which may increase the likelihood of accidents.
Distracted driving has become a common cause of accidents in Saint Paul and other parts of Minnesota. The state’s Office of Traffic Safety reports that about one in four accidents that occur in the state are distraction-related. On an annual basis, crashes that involve texting or other common distractions result in about 350 severe injuries and 70 fatal injuries.
Today, many drivers try to avoid distracted driving by using hands-free technology. With in-car infotainment systems or hands-free cell phones, many people think they can safely spend time talking or texting while driving. Unfortunately, new research indicates that these systems still require a large amount of mental attention and may put drivers at risk for accidents.
The Washington Post reports that the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently assessed the level of distraction that several hands-free systems create. The researchers tested three widely used personal assistant apps and 10 in-car infotainment systems. They found that all of the systems created a moderate to high level of distraction except for one, which introduced a very high level of distraction.
The researchers also noted that using these systems did not just momentarily distract drivers. The study participants remained mentally distracted for about 15 seconds after using the safest systems. After using the most demanding systems, drivers required a full 27 seconds to return their mental focus to the road.
Past research also supports the assertion that hands-free systems are dangerously distracting. According to U.S. News, the National Safety Council has reviewed over 30 studies and concluded that hands-free devices are no safer than regular cell phones. The NSC has determined that both types of devices create the following impairments:
- Blindness to visual stimuli in the driver’s immediate environment. Drivers who are cognitively distracted may fail to register 50 percent of the information immediately in front of them, which may raise the risk of incidents such as stop sign and red light accidents.
- Less activity in the region of the brain that plays a role in navigation and spatial processing. Activity in this region drops 37 percent when people are simply listening to language.
- Reduced response time. People who think they are multitasking are actually switching rapidly between two tasks, which can lead to delayed reactions. One study even shows that legally intoxicated drivers exhibit quicker responses than mentally distracted drivers.
Troublingly, the new AAA study suggests that many of these effects may linger even after drivers think they have shifted their attention to the road. Even drivers who use hands-free systems at traffic lights and stop signs may be distracted when they resume driving.
Unfortunately, many people think hands-free systems are completely safe. According to U.S. News, 80 percent of drivers believe hands-free cell phones are safer than handheld ones. More than half of drivers also mistakenly believe in-car infotainment systems wouldn’t be installed if they were dangerous. The Washington Post notes that drivers often assume these systems are carefully tested before reaching the marketplace. In reality, they are often unregulated and even poorly designed.
Sadly, these misconceptions may lead to many accidents that should have been avoided. The victims of these accidents can often benefit from consulting with a car accident attorney, since most forms of driver distraction constitute negligence. An attorney may be able to assess the accident circumstances and advise a victim on seeking recourse.