In Washington, and in many other states in the nation, it is illegal for drivers to use a hand-held cellphone while behind the wheel. The dangers behind this practice can be seen through the many people who are injured and killed in drunk driving accidents every year. In an attempt to use a cellphone while behind the wheel and stay in compliance with the law, many drivers have started using hands-free cellphones. Although these devices are marketed as safe alternative to hand-held cellphones, studies show that this may not always be the case.
The study, published by AAA, showed that using a hands-free cellphone while driving caused a significant amount of cognitive distraction and that this distraction may lead to a car accident. During the study, researchers measured participants heart rate, eye movement, response time and brain activity while they operated a simulator vehicle and a car set up with monitoring equipment. The participants were given various tasks to complete during the study, including the following:
- Talking on a hand-held cellphone
- Talking on a hands-free cellphone
- Listening to the radio
- Listening to an audio book
- Composing a text and/or email using voice-activated technology
- Talking to a passenger in the vehicle
The results showed that drivers who used the hands-free cellphone were only slightly less distracted than when they used the hand-held cellphone. The brain cannot fully focus on two complex tasks simultaneously. Instead, the brain switches back and forth between tasks, leaving periods where drivers are not concentrating on the road. This increases the risk of a catastrophic accident.