Distraced Driving Still Occurs With Hands-Free Devices
June 12, 2013

Distracted Driving Still Occurs With Hands-Free Devices

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A new study issued by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that using hands-free devices to talk, text or send email while driving is still distracting.

The University of Utah study was initially performed in 2006, but it failed to connect to the public. Now, Professor David Strayer, lead author of the study, has the backing of the AAA and hopes it finally makes the impact it deserves.

“These new, speech-based technologies in the car can overload the driver´s attention and impair their ability to drive safely,” says Strayer. “An unintended consequence of trying to make driving safer — by moving to speech-to-text, in-vehicle systems — may actually overload the driver and make them less safe.”

During his team's original study the researchers discovered that a hands-free cell phone was just as distracting as using a hand-held phone while driving. Strayer hopes making this known to drivers will help people realize they are risking their lives and those of others by using distracting hands-free phone, emailing, texting and social media technologies while driving.

“Just because you can update Facebook while driving doesn´t mean that it is safe to do so,” he adds. “Don´t assume that if your eyes are on the road and your hands are on the wheel that you are unimpaired. If you don´t pay attention then you are a potential hazard on the roadway.”

The researchers discovered that as mental workload and distractions increase, reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, and drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues. AAA said it was calling for action as a result of this research to try and help maintain public safety.

“It´s time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free," said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet.

AAA said it is asking the automotive and electronics industries to join in with them in exploring limiting use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities, such as climate control, windshield wipers and cruise control. The organization also recommends disabling some voice-to-text technologies like using social media or interacting with email and text messages.

“This study constitutes the most in-depth analysis to date of mental distractions behind the wheel. AAA is hopeful that it will serve as a stepping stone toward working in collaboration with automakers to promote our shared goal of improving safety for all drivers,” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “Specifically, these increasingly common voice-driven, in-vehicle technologies should be limited to use for just core driving tasks unless the activity results in no significant driver distraction.”

Another distracted driving study conducted by the University of Alberta released in May backs up Strayer and his team's findings. These researchers took a neurological approach to hands-free talking while driving. The team determined there was a significant increase in brain activity while talking on a hands-free device compared with the control condition.

“A majority of participants showed a significant increase in oxyhemoglobin in the brain, with a simultaneous drop in deoxyhemoglobin — a sign of enhanced neuronal activation during hands-free telecommunication," the researchers said in a statement. “The findings also indicated that blood flow to the brain is significantly increased during hands-free telecommunication in order to meet the oxygen demands of the neurons under the ℠distracted´ condition."