Distracted Drivers Opt To Hands-Free Devices And Are Still Distracted

George Nielsen

Don't text and drive. We all know that texting while driving is all sorts of dangerous, but what you might not know is that the alternative, our hands-free devices, may not be that much safer. This stems from a study from the American Automobile Association and the University of Utah in June 2013 analyzing people driving under all forms of distraction - texting, calling, hands-free calling, hands-free email, talking to passengers, listening to audio tapes and all that stuff. The result suggest that the main sources of distracted driving are… distractions.

But wait - I thought 'hands-free' translated to 'safe'! Not so. According to the study it's the cognitive distraction that poses harm to drivers and to others on the road. When a person is focused on something other than the road things are prone to going wrong.

In the United States ther's been renewed driving education for all ages. The attention being brought to distracted driving and it's dangers has made an impact. Deaths caused by distracted drivers decreased from 3,360 in 2011 to 3,328 in 2012. Much of the attention brought to distracted driving has focused on texting while driving. Texting while driving certainly is the top offender for distracted driving, but hands-free texting might not be any less dangerous. Hands-free "infotainment" systems are being offered in cars to increase safety and sleekness. Managing social media, music, calls, texts and emails via a hands-free device, however, might lull people into a false sense of safety.

"These new, speech-based technologies in the car can overload the driver's attention and impair their ability to drive safely," says University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer. "An unintended consequence of trying to make driving safer – by moving to speech-to-text, in-vehicle systems – may actually overload the driver and make them less safe."

States countrywide are cracking down on phone distractions. Texting while driving has been banned on most roads. Most laws specifically against texting, which has allowed many people to wiggle their way out of the $100 ticket. Now states are starting to catch on and many are passing legislation to ban all screen-involved distractions. In Utah a new law will allow officers to give tickets to anyone fidgeting with a screen while driving. That means dialing, texting, emailing, social media-ing and any other hand-held device sneaks. Hands-free devices are still in the clear, but it's smart to use them less often and focus more often.

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