Researchers test the claim that hands-free devices are safer for drivers

A recent study shows the risks associated with hands-free technology now found in new cars.

Distraction is a common issue that Fayetteville drivers face and today there are many more things that call for their attention. Texts, calls on their cellphones, passengers, pets and even food can pose risks, not only to themselves, but to others on the road around them. The North Carolina Department of Transportation reported in 2013 that there were more than 49,000 crashes attributed to distracted driving. Over 27,000 injuries resulted from those accidents and there were 141 deaths.

Hands-free technology marketed to auto buyers

In recent years, auto buyers have been told that manufacturers are addressing the issue of distraction with the implementation of in-vehicle technology. This technology includes the ability to use their voice to do tasks such as looking for a music station, asking for directions, sending emails and making phone calls. The manufacturers and developers of this technology claim that the new systems lower driver distraction because it allows the drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel, thereby preventing visual and manual distraction.

Testing the claims

Researchers at the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety decided to test those claims by conducting a series of experiments to look at the third type of distraction - cognitive. Recruiting 38 people from a university, the researchers asked them to perform several tasks within three different environments. They used an instrumented vehicle, a laboratory and a driver simulator. The people who participated had a history of driving and using their cellphones, and fell into an age range between 30 and 18 years. The experiments included the following:

  • Using a hands-free cellphone
  • Listening to an audiobook
  • Talking to a passenger
  • Using a hand-held cellphone
  • Listening to the radio
  • Using a speech-to-text system

To measure the amount of distraction for each task, researchers established a rating scale by having the participants attempt to solve a series of complex problems that would require more brain power. The participants were also recorded while engaging in just the sole task of driving.

Comparing the results

When researchers compared the results of the experiments, they found that the speech-to-text system produced a level of cognitive distraction that was higher than holding a handheld cellphone. While engaged in this task, researchers noted that drivers were slower to hit their brakes, they experienced a sort of tunnel vision and they even missed seeing potential dangers in the driving environment.

The findings were used to show that manufacturers and technology companies may want to re-evaluate just how safe such technology in vehicles are for drivers. The researchers stated in their report that "hands-free does not mean risk-free."

For people in North Carolina, an unexpected accident can leave them without a primary source of income as well as with numerous financial, physical, mental and emotional challenges. They may find it of benefit, therefore, to meet with an experienced attorney to discuss their options.