Study Finds Hands-Free Devices Still Dangerous

In prior posts, we have highlighted the dangers of distracted driving and even hosted Arbella Insurance’s Distractology 101 Driving Simulator at our Bourne office to give drivers firsthand experience with the hazards that are endemic with distracted driving. This week, we bring another installment of our Distracted Driving blog posts, this time focusing on a recent study conducted by AAA concerning hands-free devices.

The Distractology Simulator at our Bourne Office last summer

Typically, distractions are thought of as things preventing both hands from being on the wheel and both eyes from being on the road (think activities like texting and eating). The increasing implementation of hands-free and entertainment systems that allow drivers to control media by talking is designed to counteract these types of distractions with roughly 9 million of these infotainment systems in cars shipped this year and the number projecting to increase nearly 7 fold to 62 million in the next five years.

A startling study by AAA has found that using voice-to-text messaging is more distracting to drivers than using a handheld device to make a phone call. This seems to be due to the complexity and increased focus that is needed to verbally compose a text or email. Using both mobile devices and hands-free were found to result in slower reaction time and compromised brain function.

The study characterized distractions on a range of “small”, “moderate/significant” and “large”. AAA found that texting a friend verbally ranked as a “large” distraction, talking on the phone or to a passenger were “moderate/significant” distractions and listening to music or an audio book were “small” distractions.

Automakers have stated that if the decision were made to start limiting infotainment systems, drivers would shortly go back to using handheld devices which would be both mentally and physically distracting. These findings led the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board Deborah Hersman to call for a ban of all phone conversations behind the wheel.

The study was conducted using “good” drivers in their 20’s and 30’s and involved a lab test, driving simulator and driving through a residential area. Researchers were able to measure reaction time and brainwave activity via caps attached to the head of the driver. A Subaru Outback was equipped with computers and a researcher in the back that measured the responses of the drivers. The vehicle used a phone with a hands-free device rather than an in-vehicle system and in order to eliminate any potential faults with the voice recognition software, the person receiving the text messages converted them manually.

Generally, I have avoided using both hand held devices and the hands-free devices in the past. First and foremost because of the mental energy it takes to focus on another task while driving but also because I know that when people drive by and see me yelling at thin air, they are either going to assume I’m crazy or singing along to a Taylor Swift song, and I’d rather not reveal that I’m a T-Swift fan.

The latest study serves to show that hands-free devices are not risk free, and when driving, its best to focus on driving…because best case scenario, people will think you sing Taylor Swift songs while you drive.

Article prepared with reference to:
Insurance Journal:

Leave a Reply