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Study: Hands free cellphones and cognitive distraction

In New Jersey, driving while talking or texting on a hand-held cellphone is against the law. As a result, a number of drivers have turned to using hands-free cellphones, as they are marketed to drivers as being a safe and legal alternative to hand-held devices. Studies show, however, that hands-free cellphones are not much safer than their hand-held counterparts, and that using them while behind the wheel could cause a catastrophic car accident.

The study published by AAA had participants drive a simulator, as well as a vehicle equipped with monitoring devices while engaging in several tasks. These tasks included the following: 

  •          Talking to a passenger in the vehicle.
  •          Listening to the radio.
  •          Listening to a book-on-tape.
  •          Talking on a hand-held cellphone.
  •          Maintaining a conversation on a hands-free cellphone.
  •          Composing an email using voice-activated technology.

Researchers measured each driver’s heart rate, eye movement, brain activity and ability to respond to certain hazards in an attempt to determine the amount of cognitive distraction they experienced. The results showed that using a hands-free device is only slightly less distracting than using a hand-held device. Furthermore, voice-activated technology, although designed to remove distractions from drivers, proved to be the most distracting task that the participants engaged in.

Cognitive distraction occurs when drivers are forced to concentrate on a task other than driving. While drivers are engaging in conversation, the focus switches quickly back and forth between driving and talking. In fact, the National Safety Council reported that the human brain is unable to engage in two complex tasks at the same time. The distractions that are created may lead to a devastating car accident

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