Cognitive distraction: Are hands-free cellphones safe?

Studies show that using a hands-free device while driving still causes a significant amount of cognitive distraction.

Despite laws prohibiting the use of cellphones while behind the wheel, thousands of motorists in California and across the nation talk, text, email and engage in other activities while driving every day. In 2015, distracted driving killed 3,477 people and injured an additional 391,000 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At any given time of the day, 660,000 people use their cellphones while driving, putting others' lives in imminent danger. As a way to reduce the distraction that occurs from cellphone use, many drivers have turned to using hands-free cellphones. Although this type of device allows drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, studies show that it is still a significant source of cognitive distraction.

What is cognitive distraction?

Cognitive distraction occurs when drivers are unable to focus on the road, as they have other things going on. When motorists attempt to concentrate on two difficult tasks simultaneously, the brain switches its focus from one task to the other. This leaves moments where the driver is not thinking about driving at all. For example, when people attempt to maintain a conversation while driving, their brain bounces from the conversation to the road. During the time when the driver's focus is on the conversation, he or she is less likely to respond to hazards in the road, such as pedestrians, traffic signals, crosswalks, bad weather conditions or objects in the road.

The study

The study published by AAA evaluated the extent of cognitive distraction that people experience when they are engaged in certain activities while driving. Researchers measured participants' heart rate, eye movement, reaction times and brain activity as they used simulator vehicles, as well as vehicles equipped with monitors. Participants were asked to engage in several activities, including the following:

· Listening to the radio.

· Maintaining a conversation using a hands-free cellphone.

· Talking using a hand-held cellphone.

· Speaking with a passenger in the vehicle.

· Operating a voice-activated device.

· Listening to an audio book.

The results showed that among the tasks performed, listening to the radio was least distractive and operating a voice-activated device caused the greatest amount of cognitive distraction. Surprisingly, using a hands-free device was only slightly less distracting than using a hand-held cellphone.

Finding legal representation

If you have been seriously injured in a distracted driving car accident, you may want to seek legal representation. You may be eligible for compensation for medical expenses, property damage, emotional trauma and pain. An attorney in California may be able to answer your questions and point you in the right direction when it comes to developing a case.

  • Million Dollar Advocates Forum
  • Solano County Bar Association
  • Consumer Attorneys of California
  • SFTLA - San Francisco Trial Lawyers association
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