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Countless efforts have been made to encourage drivers in Louisville and in other cities across the United States to eliminate distracted behaviors. As a result, many have put their phones down and resorted to hands-free technology, believing that it is safer behavior. However, a new study from the American Automobile Association shows that drivers using hands-free technology are still distracted and therefore at risk of becoming involved in a car accident.

Relatively Little Information On Cognitive Distraction

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines three types of driver distraction: manual, visual and cognitive. The first two types are the distractions most talked about – behaviors that encourage a driver to take his or her eyes off of the road and his or her hands off of the steering wheel. However, according to the AAA study, little research had been conducted on the risks associated with cognitive distraction – taking one’s mind off the task at hand.

Measuring Cognitive Distraction

In order to measure cognitive distraction in drivers, the study involved three experiments: laboratory tests, a driving simulator and driving in an instrumented vehicle that was equipped with technology to capture data about the driver’s behavior as he or she drove on residential city streets. The researchers’ goals were to see how different tasks in a vehicle affect a person’s cognitive abilities.

Six tasks were used, including:

  • Listening to a radio
  • Listening to an audiobook
  • Talking with a passenger
  • Talking on a hand-held phone
  • Talking with someone through a hands-free phone device
  • Using a speech-to-text email system

In addition, participants started the experiment with the solo task of concentrating on the road in front of them. In this way, researchers could effectively measure the difference between each task against the non-distracted driving test. The researchers tested participants’ ability to respond to a braking situation, collected brain electrical activity with a software-based electroencephalogram test, measured the following distance of the driver to another vehicle and evaluated drivers’ behavior in a real driving environment.

What The Study Revealed

After performing the experiments with a total of 150 drivers from the University of Utah, the AAA researchers found that, while simple tasks such as listening to a radio or an audiobook were minimally distracting, more mentally complex tasks, such as using a speech-to-text email system or talking on a hands-free phone, created greater distraction for drivers.

In a real-life driving situation, drivers who engaged in tasks that were mentally demanding reduced their scanning of the road for any hazards, showing that hands-free technology is not effective in lowering driver distraction, but may be just as risky as using hand-held devices. Hopefully the electronics industry, which makes voice-activated technology, and the automakers will take the results of the survey into consideration before installing more distracting systems in new vehicles.

If you are in a car accident, a distracted driver may likely cause it. You should discuss your case with an experienced attorney in your area.

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