Study: Hands-free devices can still distract Pennsylvania drivers

A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that just because a device is hands-free does not mean that it is not distracting.

Earlier this year, Business Insider released a report discussing infotainment systems in vehicles. According to the article, 61 percent of people state that their car should have technologies similar to their cellphones. People in Pennsylvania increasingly want Internet connectivity, applications and media in their car.

While these may be convenient, they can also be distracting. A recent study illustrates the importance of understanding hands-free devices and systems and how they play a role in taking a driver's focus off the road.

The study

In 2013, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety evaluated drivers, using cameras to follow each person's head movement and eye movement. Researchers wanted to see how certain driving distractions affected someone's reaction time as well as how much brainpower each activity required.

Each driver was presented with a range of distractions, such as listening and responding to emails through a voice-activation system, listening to an audio book and talking on the phone. Researchers than ranked each activity based on if it registered as a minimal risk, a moderate risk or an extensive risk.

Key findings

It may come as no surprise that a task such as listening to the radio ranked among the least distracting type of activity. However, consumers may be shocked to hear that a voice-activated system used to listen and respond to emails ranked as one of the most extensive types of distractions. Additionally, using either a handheld or hands-free phone were ranked similarly as a moderate risk.

Researchers' suggestions

As a result of the study, researchers from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety had the following recommendations:

  • Voice-to-text features should not be used when a driver is behind the wheel.
  • Any voice-activated features should be used minimally and only when related to essential activities, such as turning on windshield wipers.
  • Drivers should be aware that while these systems are attractive, there is a risk involved in using them that can be injurious or even fatal.

Part of the problem is that people believe that because their hands are free to be on the wheel and their eyes are on the road, they are safe. However, the National Safety Council reports that simply talking on the phone can decrease a brain's ability to process images that are moving by up to one-third. In other words, the brain has difficulty focusing on more than one thing at a time. Further, talking on a phone of any kind can lead to a driver missing up to 50 percent of his or her surroundings even when he or she is looking through the windshield.

These statistics are troubling and illustrate why infotainment systems may be more harmful than helpful. People who have concerns about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in Pennsylvania.