There is no doubt that using a cellphone while driving is dangerous. After an increase of distracted driving-related car accidents across the country, several states, including New York, implemented legislation prohibiting drivers from using hand-held cellphones.

Companies producing hands-free cellphones market the devices as a safe alternative to hand-held technology. Yet, studies show this may not always be the case. Even hands-free devices create a significant amount of driver distraction, according to a study published by AAA.

A look at the research

In an attempt to measure the amount of distraction caused by hands-free devices, researchers asked participants to engage in a series of tasks while operating a simulator vehicle, as well as a car set up with monitoring equipment. These tasks included the following:

  • Talking with a passenger in the vehicle
  • Listening to an audio book
  • Listening to the radio
  • Composing an email using voice-activated technology
  • Talking with someone using a hand-held cellphone
  • Talking with someone using a hands-free cellphone

Researchers measured each participant’s eye movement, heart rate, response time and brain activity to determine the amount of cognitive distraction experienced. The results showed that the hands-free device still produced a significant amount of distraction.

A look at cognitive distraction  

According to the National Safety Council, cognitive distraction occurs when the brain attempts to process two complex tasks, such as maintaining a conversation and driving, at the same time. Rather than focus on both activities, the brain switches back and forth from one to the other. This change in concentration leaves moments where the brain is not focused on the road at all. As a result, a catastrophic accident may occur.