In Illinois, and in several other states across the nation, it is illegal for drivers to use their hand-held cell phones while driving. This legislation was drafted in an attempt to save lives, as more than 3,600 people died in distracted driving accidents in one year alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some drivers started using hands free cell phones as a way to stay in compliance with the law. Although these devices are marketed as a safe alternative to hand-held cell phones, studies show that they may be more dangerous than some people think.
A study released by AAA looked at different types of distractions and how they affect drivers’ ability to operate their vehicles safely. During the study, researchers asked participants to engage in several activities while operating a vehicle equipped with monitoring devices. These tasks included the following:
- Listening to an audio book
- Listening to the radio
- Talking with another passenger in the car
- Maintaining a conversation using a hand-held cell phone
- Maintaining a conversation using a hands-free cell phone
- Composing an email using voice activated technology
Researchers measured the amount of cognitive distraction drivers’ experienced by measuring their eye movement, brain activity, response time and heart rate. Interestingly enough, the amount of cognitive distraction caused by using a hands-free cell phone was only slightly less than that of using a hand-held cellphone. Both generated a significant amount of cognitive distraction.
When the brain attempts to focus on two complex activities at the same time, it bounces back and forth between one task and the other. This often leaves moments in time where the driver is not focused on the road at all. It is in moments like these that devastating accidents can occur.