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I know that using a handheld cell phone while driving is dangerous, but why aren’t hands-free devices safe?

Does your car allow you to use voice commands to check your Twitter feed and send emails while driving? Many people believe that hands-free technology is a safe alternative to using a handheld phone or other device while driving, and the fact that many new cars come equipped with Bluetooth technology gives credibility to this myth.

However, multiple studies have found that drivers who are talking—regardless of whether they are holding a cell phone, using Bluetooth, or simply talking to a passenger—are not focusing in the road. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that brain processing of visual images decreases by 37 percent when a person is listening to spoken language.

This is supported by a study that was conducted by scientists at the University of Utah and funded by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Psychologist David Strayer led the study.

Strayer and his colleagues measured drivers’ eye motions, reaction times, and brain activity while the drivers were engaged in a variety of potentially distracting activities, including tuning the radio, listening to a book on tape, talking to a passenger, using a handheld cell phone, using a hands-free phone, and using voice command software to solve math and memory problems. Each driver was tested under three conditions:

  • While using a computer
  • While operating a driving simulator
  • While operating a specially equipped 2010 Subaru Outback through a residential neighborhood

Listening to a book or to the radio was not very distracting. However, using voice recognition software to complete a simple task was more distracting than talking on a handheld phone. Solving problems using voice command software was the most distracting task of all.

Strayer, who has previously compared handsfree phone operation to driving drunk, said, “An unintended consequence of trying to make driving safer—by moving to speech-to-text, in-vehicle systems—may actually overload the driver and make them less safe.”

Drivers who use a handsfree device while driving are four times more likely to be involved in a crash. The best way to avoid Wisconsin distracted driving accidents is to focus on driving when you are behind the wheel. Give up multi-tasking, and try to make driving a pleasant experience. Turn on your favorite music and give your brain a break from your busy day.

April is distracted Driving Awareness Month. Help Hupy and Abraham educate Wisconsin drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. Request your free “DNT TXT N DRV” bumper sticker.

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham