Study: Hands-free devices are still distracting to drivers in California

A recent study demonstrates that hands-free cellphone use is nearly as distracting as handheld cellphone use.

Last year, the information technology research group, Gartner, Inc., released a report stating that by the year 2020, 250 million vehicles will have wireless Internet connectivity. In addition to increasing automated driving, this kind of advancement will lead to more in-vehicle services. Already, motorists are able to speak with, text and email others while driving.

Many people in Temecula may believe they are safe because instead of holding a cellphone in their hands, they use some type of hands-free system to multi-task while driving. Unfortunately, a recent study proves that hands-free systems still pose a threat.

Conducting the study

There are three main types of distractions in driving: visual, manual and mental. Hands-free systems aim to eliminate visual and manual distractions, because the driver is able to keep his or her eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. In order to determine the impact of mental distractions, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety launched a study in which researchers evaluated drivers' brain activity and overall driving performance.

Study leaders assessed the following six typical mental distractions:

  • Listening to an audio book
  • Listening to the radio
  • Talking on a hands-free phone
  • Talking on a handheld phone
  • Talking with a passenger
  • Using a speech-to-text email system

The experiment took place in a driving simulator, laboratory and instrumented vehicle. The researchers were then able to measure items such as brainwave activity, reaction time and eye and head movements.

Key findings

Overall, researchers found that cognitive distractions alone can lead to significant impairments while driving. Reaction times were longer, there was decreased accuracy and the areas of the brain needed for safe driving were suppressed.

Of the six common distractions studied, the use of a speech-to-text system was ranked as the most distracting. On a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 as the least distracting and 5 as the most, the use of a handheld phone and hands-free phone ranked almost the same, with a score of 2.45 and 2.27, respectively.

The study makes a very important point: hands-free is not risk-free. The National Safety Council reports that in about 26 percent of all car crashes, cell phone use is involved - including hands-free devices.

California laws

In California, no driver is permitted to text or use a handheld device while behind the wheel. Further, bus drivers and novice drivers are not allowed to use a hands-free device. In California, novice drivers are drivers who are younger than 18.

In general, motorists should avoid all distractions in order to prevent an unnecessary accident from taking place. Anyone who has questions about this issue should consult with an attorney.