Researchers who study distracted driving have long asserted that talking on a cell phone can be as dangerous as texting when you’re behind the wheel. However, many states, like Florida, continue to allow cell phone use by drivers, so long as they aren’t typing the messages. In other states, the law allows “hands-free” communication, with the assumption being it’s safer if your eyes are on the road and your hands on the wheel.
Traffic safety experts have refuted that assumption, arguing that a human’s attention can’t be effectively split between two high-level cognitive functions (i.e., having a conversation on the phone and driving). And now, in a surprising new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, researchers discovered that those unsafe levels of mental distraction can last nearly 30 seconds after the task is completed. A driver who is traveling just 25 miles-per-hour travels the length of three football fields during this time.
So what this tells us is that not only are these systems unsafe while the vehicle is in motion, it could be potentially hazardous to engage while the vehicle is stopped at a red light or during some other lull. That’s because mental distractions could persist even after the light turns green.
The study is part of the organizations third phase of investigation into cognitive distractions by drivers. It’s been clearly shown in previous results that hands-free technology is potentially distracting to drivers, even when they are seemingly engaged with hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
Researchers say most drivers who wreck while using hands-free technology are shocked when they realize they missed:
- Stop signs
- Other vehicles
This new information reveals these same kinds of critical mistakes are often made in the 27-second window after the driver has engaged in hands-free technology.
Analysts studied the effect of mental distraction across various hands-free communication systems, including 10 new-model vehicles and three different kinds of smart phones. Researchers then rated the level of distraction from 1 to 5, 1 being mild and 5 being very high. The agency considered a mental distraction rating of 2 or higher to be potentially dangerous.
But even the best-performing hands-free system, the Chevy Equinox, had a mental distraction rating of 2.4. The worst-rating hands-free system was the Mazda 6, which had a distraction rating of 4.6. When it came to phone systems, the Google Now system had a rating of 3.0. The two other systems, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana, rated 3.4 and 3.8 on the distraction scale. When phones were used to send voice-to-text communication, the level of distraction increased markedly.
This research is important because, first of all, technology is expanding everywhere we look. As of January 2014, nine out of 10 Americans had a cell phone and 65 percent had a smartphone. In-vehicle technology is beginning to come standard in newer models.
These kinds of systems seem to invite driver distraction. Although vehicle manufacturers insist they are only making safer what people would do anyway, there is cause to question because its very existence would seem to indicate it is safe to use. Further, there is no federal standard that regulates how these systems work.
Florida law prohibits texting while driving, but voice-activated communication systems are allowed. That also sends a message to drivers that it’s safe to engage. As our Fort Myers traffic accident attorneys can tell you, it’s most certainly not.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
New Hands-free Technologies Pose Hidden Dangers for Drivers, Oct. 22, 2015, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
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Uspenskaya v. Meline – Collateral Source Rule in Florida Injury Cases, Nov. 2, 2015, Fort Myers Car Accident Lawyer Blog