Study: Hands free devices and cognitive distraction

Drivers who use hands free devices can become seriously distracted and may be more likely to cause an auto accident.

Chicago law prohibits all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel. As a result, a number of motorists use hands free cellphones while they are navigating the streets of Illinois. Although hands free cellphones are marketed as a safe alternative to using hand held cellphones, studies show that using these devices can be significantly distracting as well. As smartphone usage continues to increase in popularity, researchers are investigating ways in which drivers can make the roads safer for everyone.

Hands free study

In a study published by AAA, researchers compared various distractions that drivers are often exposed to while behind the wheel, including talking and texting on hand held and hands free cellphones. Participants involved in the study were evaluated as they operated vehicles that were equipped with multiple monitoring devices, as well as a simulator vehicle. While the participants were driving, they were asked to engage in several tasks. These included the following:

  • Listening to the radio
  • Listening to an audio book
  • Talking with a passenger in the vehicle
  • Maintaining a conversation using a hand held and a hands free cellphone
  • Composing an email using a voice-activated device

Researchers measured each driver's response time to red and green lights by evaluating their head and eye movements through strategically placed cameras in the vehicles. In addition, participants' heart rate and brain activity were measured using monitors.

A look at the results and cognitive distraction

The results of the study showed that while talking on a hands free cellphone was not as distracting as using a hand held cellphone, hands free devices did pose a significant level of interference. Drivers who use hands free cellphones do not experience manual or visual distractions because they are able to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their visual focus on the road. Motorists do, however, remove their focus and concentration off of the road, causing cognitive distraction.

According to the National Safety Council, people cannot effectively concentrate on two complex activities at the same time. Instead, the brain bounces back and forth between each task. That means that there are moments in time where the driver is not focused on the road. In fact, drivers who are cognitively distracted are unable to process up to 50 percent of the information in their field of vision.

What to do after a car accident

If you have been involved in a car accident caused by a distracted, drunk or otherwise negligent driver, you may be searching for answers to some important questions. An attorney in Illinois may be able to help look at your legal options and determine which may be best for your particular situation.