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A look at cognitive distraction and hands-free cellphones

Although talking and texting on a hand-held cellphone is not illegal for Wisconsin drivers, the dangerous practice takes thousands of lives throughout the United States every year. As a result, many people have started using hands-free cellphones as a way to continue engaging in business while minimizing visual and manual distractions. Companies market hands-free cellphones as a safe alternative to using hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel. Study results show, however, that hands-free cellphones may not be as safe as some might think.

AAA released a study indicated that talking on a hands-free cellphone while behind the wheel is only slightly less distracting than using a hand-held cellphone. In fact, hands-free cellphones created a significant amount of cognitive distraction and made it difficult for drivers to stay focused on the road. During the study, researchers measured participants’ heart rates, eye movement, brain activity and response time to different driving hazards, as they engaged in several activities. These tasks include the following:

  •          Listening to the radio
  •          Listening to a book-on-tape
  •          Talking on a hands-free and a hand-held cellphone
  •          Speaking with a passenger in the car
  •          Composing an email using voice-activated technology

Voice activated technology and hands-free devices were designed to lower distraction levels. However, the study found that the most distracting task involved use of the voice-activated technology. Furthermore, hands-free cellphones generated cognitive distraction that increases the likelihood of getting into a deadly accident while on the road. The best practice is to refrain from using any type of technology while driving.


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