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Study: Cognitive distraction and hands-free cellphones

Millions of people across the country are guilty of using their cellphones while navigating the busy roadways. Sadly, approximately 391,000 people were injured and 3,450 were killed in catastrophic car accidents in the United States during a one-year period. As a result, many states, including New Jersey, prohibit the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Some drivers have started using hands free cellphones as a way to use their cellular devices while staying in compliance with the law. Studies show, however, that even hands-free cellphones pose a risk to drivers and other people who are sharing the road.

A study published by AAA found that hands free cellphones still generate a significant amount of cognitive distraction, which could lead to car accidents. Researchers asked participants to engage in several distractive tasks while operating a simulator vehicle, as well as an actual vehicle equipped with monitoring devices. The tasks included:

  •          Talking to a passenger in the vehicle
  •          Maintaining a conversation using a hand-held cellphone
  •          Using a hands-free cellular device
  •          Listening to the radio
  •          Listening to an audio book
  •          Composing an email using voice activated technology

While completing the tasks, researchers measured each driver’s heart rate, eye movement, brain activity and response time. The results showed that using a hand-held cellphone was only slightly less distracting that using the hands-free device.

Cognitive distraction occurs when the brain is preoccupied with another task and, as a result, is unable to focus on the primary task. Rather than focus on two activities at once, the brain skips back and forth between them. This leaves moments in time where the brain is not focused on driving at all and puts everyone at risk of suffering from a car accident.