Study shows hands-free technologies are still a distraction for drivers

Many people believe hands-free technologies are a safe way to use cellular phones while driving, but a study has shown that they can be highly distracting.

In many ways, technological advances, including the advent of cellular phones, have made life easier for most people in Kentucky. For drivers, however, cellular phones have only increased the potential dangers on the road. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 9 percent of all drivers were using cellular phones in 2011 during daylight hours. That is the most recent year for which statistics were available. Talking, text messaging or otherwise using cellular phones while driving can all take motorists' attentions off the task of driving. As a result, drivers may be more apt to be involved in collisions. This can cause serious injuries or death for them, their passengers, other motorists and other innocent bystanders.

In an effort to aid with this growing trend, many cellular phone and motor vehicle manufacturers have developed hands-free technologies. Such technologies have been thought to be an effective solution for drivers. However, a recent study has shown that hands-free technologies may be just as distracting to motorists.

Studying how cognitive distractions impact drivers

The American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study to understand how cognitive distractions can affect drivers. Cognitive distractions, unlike mental or visual distractions, are those that take motorists' mental attention away from their primary task of driving. In order to do this, researchers established a scale by which these types of distractions can be measured.

For the study, researchers asked participants to perform various tasks while in the lab, in a driving simulator and in an instrumented vehicle. The tasks performed in the study included driving with no outside distractions, driving while talking to a passenger, and driving while listening to the radio and an audiobook. Additionally, they were asked to drive while talking on a hand-held cellular phone, using speech-to-text technology and using hands-free devices. The participants were then monitored using electronic sensors, cameras and other equipment.

Hands-free technologies increase mental workloads

Based on the study's findings, the use of hands-free cellular phone options, including speech-to-text technologies, are among the most distracting activities for motorists. This was largely due to an increase in the participants' mental workloads while driving. As a result, the participants experienced slowed reaction times and compromised brain function. Furthermore, the study's findings showed that the use of hands-free technologies resulted in narrowed fields of vision and missed visual cues. Therefore, it was shown through the study that taking their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel are not the only ways that drivers can be distracted. This can lead to motor vehicle crashes, which can have serious consequences.

Working with an attorney

In 2010, the state of Kentucky passed a law banning text messaging while driving for all motorists, according to the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety. Furthermore, state law prohibits the use of hand-held electronic devices, including cellular phones, for drivers under 18 years of age while the auto is in motion. Failing to obey these laws can not only result in legal issues, but also cause serious injury to the distracted drivers themselves, or others.

The victims of such collisions may require medical treatment and, in some cases, long-term care. This can result in undue medical expenses. People who have suffered injuries in distraction-related accidents may find it of benefit to consult with a legal professional. An attorney may be able to explain their rights and options, as well as help them determine the best course of action for their situation.

Keywords: distracted, driving, accident, injury