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Cognitive distraction and hands-free cellphones

While it is still legal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving in Pennsylvania, it is against the law to do so in many other states in the nation. Several states have enacted laws against this practice as it has proved to be deadly for drivers and for other innocent people on the road. In 2017 alone, more than 3,100 people were killed in distracted driving accidents. Hands-free cellphones are thought to be a safer option for drivers who wish to minimize distractions. Yet, studies show that even these seemingly safe devices cause a dangerous amount of distractions on the road. 

In the study published by AAA, researchers measured how much cognitive distraction was generated by drivers who were engaged in other tasks while behind the wheel. As participants drove a simulator vehicle, and a vehicle equipped with monitoring devices, researchers measured their eye movement, heart rate, response time and brain activity while they performed the following tasks:

  • Listening to an audio book

  • Listening to the radio

  • Talking using a hand-held cellphone

  • Talking using a hands-free cellphone

  • Composing an email using voice-activated technology

  • Talking with a passenger in the vehicle

The results showed that while using a hands-free cellphone caused less manual and visual distractions when compared to a hand-held cellphone, it was still a major source of cognitive distraction. Cognitive distraction occurs when the driver’s mind is focused on something other than driving. Rather than concentrate on driving, the brain is flipping back and forth between the conversation and what is happening on the road. This increases the risk for an accident.