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Cellphone study: How do hands-free devices measure up?

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California is one of several states in the nation that prohibits the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. In order to comply with this law, you may have turned to using a hands-free cellular device when behind the wheel. Although hands-free cellphones allow you to keep your hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, they cause a significant amount of cognitive distraction. This form of distraction can cause serious car accidents, injuries and deaths.

A study published by AAA looked at how distracting hands-free cellphones can be to motorists who are engaging in conversation. Researchers had people participate in several tasks while operating a simulator, as well as a vehicle equipped with monitoring devices. These tasks included the following:

  •          Talking on a hand-held cellphone.
  •          Conversing on a hands-free cellular device.
  •          Talking with a passenger in the vehicle.
  •          Listening to the radio.
  •          Listening to an audio book.
  •          Composing an email using voice-activated technology.

As participants accomplished these tasks, researchers monitored their heart rate, eye movement, reaction time and brain waves to gain a better understanding of the amount of cognitive distraction they experienced.

The study results showed that while using a hands-free device was somewhat safer than using a hand-held cellphone, there was not a big difference in the amount of distraction each device caused. Furthermore, the voice-activated technology, which is designed to limit driver distractions, caused the greatest amount of cognitive distraction.

Cognitive distraction occurs when your brain cannot focus on one task, but is rather skipping back and forth between two tasks. This can leave moments where you are not able to concentrate on the road at all, but rather the conversation at hand.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.

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