Although many people believe that hands-free devices, such as in-dash phone systems, and voice-activated systems for music and navigation, are safe – possibly even providing a remedy for distracted driving – a new study has revealed that in many cases using hands-free devices can be even more dangerous than using hand-held ones.

Up until now, the efficacy of hands-free devices for reducing driver distraction has been open to speculation due to a lack of research. Now, we are finally getting some answers – and it doesn’t look too good for the auto manufacturers, who are touting these devices as the next frontier in safe driving.

Study says hands-free devices are more prone to cause distraction

Rather than measuring visual or physical distractions, which have already been shown to lead to accidents, this study, conducted by AAA and the University of Utah, used test vehicles, heart-rate monitors, and other equipment to measure cognitive distraction, i.e., how hard the brain has to work to perform various tasks using the hands-free devices.

Each device was given a rating from one to five, five being the poorest (most distracting). For comparison, a hand-held cell phone was given a rating of 2.45. The following is a list of the devices, with their ratings, that the study looked at. Only the last two were rated to be less distracting than a cell phone.

Chevrolet’s MyLink system 3.7
Chrysler’s UConnect System 2.7
Ford’s Sync with MyFord Touch system 3.0
Mercedes’ Command system 3.1
Toyota’s Entune 1.7
Hyundai BlueLink 2.2
A companion study, with similar findings, also investigated the use of Apple’s voice-controlled Siri application while driving. Problems with this system included highly specific phrasing requirements and calls to the wrong person. Even the “sarcastic personality” of the system was found to be a point of contention. In general, many of the devices were prone to errors, adding to user frustration.

“We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies,” said Bob Darbelnet, chief executive of AAA in an October 7th article published by the Los Angeles Times. “We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.”

The National Safety Council (NSC) argues that just talking on a phone is distracting, whether it’s hands-free or not, citing a phenomenon called “inattention blindness” (where a driver can look at an object but not really see it, making it easy to miss traffic signs and signals as well as exits and turns). The NSC says that having a phone conversation can force a driver’s brain to multi-task, switching back and forth between the two very different tasks, and therefore distracting the driver from the task at hand.

Where does Minnesota stand?

According to the Office of Traffic Safety, a Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, distracted driving is a factor in one out of four car accidents in Minnesota, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries per year.

So far, the state of Minnesota only mandates handheld cell phone use. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), drivers who are under 18, drivers with a learner’s permit or provisional license, and school bus drivers are banned from talking on a cell phone while driving in the state of Minnesota (aside from these restrictions, it is still legal to talk on a cell phone while driving). However, all drivers are banned from texting while behind the wheel either while driving or when stopped in traffic or at traffic signals (this includes reading, writing and sending messages, as well as accessing the web).

Because wireless communication devices that are voice-activated or hands-free are currently not restricted, it’s up to each individual driver to make informed choices for their own safety, the safety of their passengers, and the safety of everyone else on the road. It’s vital that parents educate their teen drivers about the dangers of hands-free devices, instituting their own restrictions when necessary.

The bottom line – the sooner we all just keep our eyes on the road, our hands on the wheel, and our minds 100% focused on the act of driving, the safer we’ll all be.

If you have been injured in a car accident as a result of distracted driving, contact Meshbesher & Spence for a consultation with our personal injury attorneys. Our attorneys are available to visit you in the hospital or in your home as well as in our offices, and will help you determine if you will be able to recover damages for your injuries.

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