Study: A closer look at hands free cellphones and driver safety

A study shows that using a hands-free cellphone while behind the wheel may not be much safer than using a hand-held device.

Cellphone use in Illinois and the United States has hit new heights, as a surprising number of people insist on texting, talking and watching their cellphones, even while behind the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,477 people were killed and an additional 391,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents in 2015. As a way to minimize the number of motorists hurt and killed in these types of accidents, Illinois and several other states in the nation, imposed a law making it illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving. Many people have since turned to using hands-free devices so they can continue using their cellphones while driving. Although hands-free cellphones are marketed as being less distracting, a study conducted by AAA showed how these safer alternatives may be just as dangerous as hand-held cellular devices.

Cognitive distraction

While hands-free cellphones allow drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, motorists still suffer from inhibited focus and concentration. The National Safety Association reported that the human brain cannot complete two complex activities, such as driving and maintaining a conversation, at the same time. Rather the brain skips back and forth quickly from one task to the other. This often leaves moments in time where the mind is not paying attention to the road at all. Incidents have occurred where drivers using hands-free cellphones have run red lights, sped through stop signs and rear-ended other vehicles.

The study

In order to measure the amount of cognitive distraction caused by hands-free cellphones in comparison to other types of distractions drivers face, researchers asked participants to engage in several activities, including the following:

· Talking to another passenger in the vehicle.

· Listening to the radio.

· Composing an email using a voice-activated device.

· Maintaining a conversation using a hands-free cellphone.

· Talking using a hand-held cellphone.

· Listening to an audio book.

During this time, monitors recorded drivers' brain activity, heart rate, eye movement and reaction time to certain road hazards. Participants operated both a car equipped with monitors and a simulator vehicle.

The results

Although talking using a hands-free phone was slightly less distracting that using a hand-held cellphone, the difference in cognitive distraction was minimal. Listening to the radio was least distracting, while using voice-activated technology was most distracting.

When to contact an attorney

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of another person's negligence, you may want to consult with an experienced attorney in Illinois. You may be eligible for compensation for your emotional trauma, medical expenses, lost wages from work and property damage.