Study: Hands-free devices are not a safer way to use phones

A recent study has bad news for Bluetooth users. The devices, which allow for hands-free driving, have long been thought of as a way to prevent drivers from being distracted. By eliminating the need for drivers to hold their phones or electronic devices, the theory went, drivers could focus on the road. Unfortunately, a new study suggests that hands-free devices could actually be more dangerous.

The study, by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that using the voice to send e-mails, update Facebook and other hands-free tasks actually requires more concentration. This need for greater concentration can cause drivers to scan the road less frequently. They may not see traffic lights, pedestrians and other things in front of them.

Researchers measured factors such as brainwaves in more than 32 students who took part in tasks such as talking on a cellphone and responding to voice-activated e-mails. Using cameras to record driver reaction time and a skull cap to chart brain activity, researchers measured how distracting these activities were. The results were consistent: Voice-commanded technologies provided the greatest distraction.

With nine million vehicles already equipped for these devices, and many more expected in the coming years, the AAA president sees a “looming public safety crisis.” He says it’s time to limit potentially dangerous distractions built into cars. AAA wants to explore ways to limit voice-activated technology to activities like using windshield wipers or changing the temperature.

More than 3,300 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates. Another 387,000 were injured.

Source: The Day, “AAA study: When driving, hands-free does not equal risk-free,” Izaskun E. Larrañeta, June 13, 2013

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