Navigating Wisconsin roadways alongside other motorists, truckers and motorcyclists is no easy feat. In fact, driving is one of the riskiest tasks you can engage in. In 2018 alone, the National Safety Council estimates that more than 40,000 people died in car accidents across the United States. At least 3,614 people died in distracted driving accidents every year.

In an attempt to minimize the number of people who die in car accidents, some states enacted legislation prohibiting the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Many people have started using hands-free devices as a safe alternative to hand-held cell phones. Studies show, however, that even hands-free devices are not safe to use on the road.

A look at the study

In a study published by AAA, researchers measured the amount of cognitive distraction caused by hands-free cell phones in comparison to other activities. Researchers asked participants in the study to use a simulator vehicle, as well as a car equipped with devices to monitor heart rate, eye movement, brain activity and response time. Researchers asked drivers to also engage in the following tasks while driving:

  • Maintain a conversation using a hand-held cell phone
  • Maintain a conversation using a hands-free cell phone
  • Listen to the radio
  • Compose an email using voice-activated technology
  • Listen to an audiobook
  • Have a conversation with a passenger in the vehicle

The results showed that using a hands-free cell phone is only slightly less distracting than using a hand-held device. Hands-free cell phones caused a significant amount of cognitive distraction. Enough to cause a serious car accident.

Understanding cognitive distraction

Cognitive distraction occurs when a driver focuses on something other than the road ahead. According to the NSC, the brain cannot concentrate on two complex tasks at the same time. Instead, the focus bounces back from one task to the other. While the driver focuses on one task, she or he cannot think about another. This may result in delayed response time to other vehicles, pedestrians, stop signs, traffic signals and objects in the road.

The safest way to drive is with minimal distractions. Experts urge drivers to avoid using any type of cellular device while behind the wheel.

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