Study: The danger of hands-free cellphones

Studies show that using a hands-free cellphone is a significant source of cognitive distraction when compared to hand-held cellphones.

Distracted driving claims the lives of thousands of Americans every year. In 2015, 3,477 people were killed and another 391,000 were seriously injured in car accidents involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In an attempt to reduce the number of distracted driving accidents, injuries and deaths, a number of states have implemented laws prohibiting the use of hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel. In Illinois, all drivers are banned from using hand-held devices. As a result, some have started using hands-free cellphones, which are still legal. The problem with hands-free cellphones is that they are still a significant source of cognitive distraction.

What is cognitive distraction?

Cognitive distraction occurs when peoples' focus is taken off the road and placed on another task, such as maintaining a conversation with someone else. According to the National Safety Council, it is impossible for the human brain to complete two complex tasks simultaneously. Rather than concentrate on both tasks at once, the driver's attention switches back and forth from one activity to the other. These leaves moments where the driver is not concentrating on the road at all.

The study

A study published in AAA found that while hands-free cellphones are less distracting than hand-held models, they still act as a source of distraction. Participants used both a simulator vehicle, as well as an actual vehicle equipped with monitoring devices. As they drove the course, participants were asked to engage in the following activities:

· Listen to the radio.

· Listen to an audio book.

· Maintain a conversation using a hand-held cellphone.

· Talking using a hands-free cellular device.

· Talking to a passenger in the vehicle.

· Compose and send an email using a voice-activated device.

Researchers measured participants' brain waves, heart rate, response time and eye movement as they completed certain tasks while driving.

The results

The data found that the most distracting task involved using the voice-activated device, while the least distracting was listening to the radio. Using a hands-free cellphone was only slightly less distracting than using a hand-held cellphone. Although hands-free cellphones eliminate manual and visual distractions by allowing drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, it still causes the brain to wander. People who use the devices are still at risk of becoming involved in a serious car accident.

Paying the consequences

People who are involved in an accident caused by another person's negligence may be entitled to compensation for their medical expenses, lost wages from work, property damage and emotional trauma stemming from the accident. A personal injury attorney may be able to help investigate the details of the situation and formulate a strong case on your behalf.

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