Hands-Free Texting and Talking Still Distract Drivers, Says AAA

Wednesday, 12 Jun 2013 11:26 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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While car manufacturers continue to tout the safety benefits of voice-activated devices like Bluetooth in their new models, a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests drivers are not much safer with hands-free texting and talking devices.

Manufacturers have shelled out for celebrities like Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to endorse the technology, making consumers believe it could possibly save lives, but the AAA Foundation said that a driver's reaction time slows down when they use the voice-activated devices. A slowed reaction time could lead drivers to miss trouble signs on the road, according to USA Today.

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USA Today reported the AAA Foundation study measured the impact of cognitive and mental distractions on driving.

"There's a sort of arms race (among auto manufacturers) over what's going into the car these days," David Strayer, a University of Utah cognitive distraction expert who co-authored the new report, told USA Today. "Any function that can be put in the car is being put in the car without a full examination of whether it should go in the car."

The study created a rating scale for driver distractions and tested each against various activities, such as talking on a hands-free cell phone or using a speak-to-text email system. The study stated that many of these devices "placed a high cognitive burden" on drivers, reducing their attention to the road.

"By demonstrating that mentally-distracted drivers miss visual cues, have slower reaction times, and even exhibit a sort of tunnel vision, this study provides some of the strongest evidence yet that 'hands-free' driving doesn't mean risk free," the study said.

According to the report, even with the driver's eyes on the road, using hands-free devices leads to suppressed brain activity and decreased visual scanning, causing the driver to miss oncoming traffic cues.

"This is a reminder to the general public that distracted driving is real," Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety told USA Today. "Three out of four drivers believe that hands-free is better than handheld. But hands-free is not risk-free, and we now have new evidence that clearly demonstrates that."

The AAA Foundation is requesting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration include the findings in its driver distractions guidelines.

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