Distracted driving doesn't disappear with hands-free technology

June 12, 2013 12:00 AM

What comes to mind when you think of distracted driving? Applying makeup, drinking coffee, fumbling with mobile devices - all of these are common actions that can take a driver's mind off the road. Utilizing the new wave of hands-free technologies, such as talk-to-text messaging or speaking with a wireless headset is typically deemed a safer alternative. However, new studies are showing that these accessories can be just as dangerous as their traditional counterparts. 

"There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies," said Robert L. Darbelnet, AAA President. "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."

Hands-free devices
A new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that mental distractions brought about by the use of hands-free devices are still dangerous for motorists, despite nearly three-fourths of drivers thinking it is significantly safer. When mental workload increases, regardless of the tools used by individuals, brain function suffers. Drivers are less likely to scan the road and pick up on visual cues like turn signals and brake lights, leading to potential problems including not seeing pedestrians, stop signs or fellow cars, as well as lengthening reaction times.

"These findings reinforce previous research that hands-free is not risk-free," said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation. "Increased mental workload and cognitive distractions can lead to a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness where motorists don't see potential hazards right in front of them."

Distracted driving remains a danger
By embracing hands-free technology, drivers may actually be putting themselves at greater risk. According to HealthDay, it's practically impossible for the brain to complete two complex activities at the same time, causing many drivers to lessen their focus on the road. 

"These new, speech-based technologies in the car can overload the driver's attention and impair their ability to drive safely," David Strayer, a psychology professor and cognitive distraction expert, told NPR. "Don't assume that if your eyes are on the road  and your hands are on the wheel that you are unimpaired." 

Not everyone can completely eliminate phone calls, text messaging and other technological activities from their driving. To best protect yourself, be sure your car's safety features are operating at a high level with a car tune up. You can also invest in things like brake service and tire alignment to ensure your car is performing well enough to avoid accidents. 

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