Drivers Believe Hands-Free Is Safer…Is It Really?

Infotainment and communication technologies are proliferating the car industry. As connected cars become a given, instead of just an adde...

Infotainment and communication technologies are proliferating the car industry. As connected cars become a given, instead of just an added feature, the safety of using such features while driving comes into question. In a recent survey conducted by the National Safety Council in the US, 80% of drivers believe that using hands-free devices are safer than handheld ones; 53% believe that hands-free devices integrated into the vehicle must be safe to use. In this case, the majority is quite likely…WRONG!

According to David Teater, a Senior Director at the Council: “The problem is the brain does not truly multi-task. Just like you can’t read a book and talk on the phone, you can’t safely operate a vehicle and talk on the phone.”

Hands-free activities while driving still result in both visual and cognitive distractions. The former includes reading a map or dialling a number, whereby the driver is required to take his or her eyes off the road, even momentarily. According to Distraction.gov, a website by the US government to dissuade distracted driving, taking one’s eyes off the road for five seconds when travelling at 55mph is akin to covering the length of a football field blindfolded; that's terrifying when analogised this way.

Cognitive distraction encompasses, for instance, talking or listening on the phone or to other passengers. The level of risk of cognitive distraction is difficult to determine because it involves understanding the capacity of the brain to process multiple tasks at the same time. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety attempted to empirically measure cognitive distraction in a 2013 experimental study and found that on the Cognitive Distraction Scale, hands-free calls measure only slightly less than hand-held ones. Interestingly, speech-to-text, which is an increasingly popular activity of dictating an email or text message to your phone, rated highly on the distraction scale.



Another study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, however, does not indicate a direct increase in crash risk from the actual action of speaking on the phone. It does, nonetheless, highlight that even hands-free phone calls involve looking for, looking at and touching the phone, which are all forms of visual distraction.

While there are no concrete statistics to show that a higher number of traffic accidents occur because of hands-free activities, even the layman knows that it is difficult to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time.

Here is another distracted driving factor that is unusual and rather amusing. A young lady claims that she is constantly being distracted by her dead boyfriend’s ghost who, even in death, cannot keep his hands off her. What does Distraction.gov recommend for that? Read more about this odd yet amusing case on Yahoo! Auto

image: huffingtonpost.com.uk, aaafoundation.org

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