Hands-free technology might make it easier to text, talk on the phone, or look up directions while driving, but the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that mental distractions exist even if drivers keep their hands and eyes on the road.
As the most comprehensive study of its kind, AAA appeals to the public to not use voice-to-text functions while driving. “There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies. It’s time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free,” said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet.
Dr. David Strayer, cognitive distraction expert, along with his research team at the University of Utah measured brainwaves, eye movement, and other tasks to see what happens to a driver’s mental workload when multitasking. Drivers were asked to engage in common tasks from listening to a book on tape or talking on the phone behind the wheel to determine the level of mental distraction. Listening to the radio ranked as a minimal risk, talking on the phone–hands-free and handheld–ranked as a moderate risk, and listening and responding to in-vehicle voice-activated email features rated as an extensive risk.
AAA is using these findings to ensure that in-vehicle technologies won’t lead to compromised public safety. “This study constitutes the most in-depth analysis to date of mental distractions behind the wheel. AA is hopeful that it will serve as a stepping stone toward working in collaboration with automakers to promote our shared goal of improving safety for all drivers,” said Darbelnet.
According the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the study conducted by the team from the University of Utah and AAA could be misleading, claiming the study suggests hand-held and hands-free devices are equally risky. The Alliance wishes to wait for other academic studies to come out so a complete body of research can be reviewed.
“The AAA study focuses only on the cognitive aspects of using a device, and ignores the visual and manual aspects of hand-held versus integrated hands-free systems. There are many other academic studies under way, and road safety will be enhanced by letting the complete body of research drive policy recommendations,” said Wade Newton, Communications Director for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.