Hands-Free Texting Could Get You Killed: Report

Dennis Faas's picture

Think you're a safe driver because you use hands-free technologies to communicate with friends and family while behind the wheel? Think again. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is recommending drivers not use such tools at all while driving their vehicles.

The recommendation follows a study by a cognitive distraction researcher and his team at the University of Utah. The researchers carried out a series of tests that showed drivers could still be distracted when using hands-free communications tools.

AAA chief Robert Darbelnet said the group's suggestion to avoid the technology might not be enough.

"There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies," Darbelnet said. "It's time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free"

Brain Scan Shows Driver Distraction

The researchers asked drivers to use hands-free technology and then studied the drivers' on-road behavior. The study used red and green lights to simulate road hazards and then track response time. It also used cameras inside the car to track head and eye movements. (Source: latimes.com)

The researchers even used a special skull-cap with an electroencephalographic (EEG) device to measure brain activity.

According to the researchers, while listening to the radio there was a "minimal" risk of distraction. However, talking on a cellphone (whether handheld or hands-free) produced a "moderate risk."

Using voice-activated tools to listen to and respond to emails resulted in an "extensive" risk of distraction.

Why? Because of the increased mental activity it required. In effect, such activities required so much brain activity that most drivers simply couldn't focus on road hazards.

AAA: Switch Off Tools When In Motion

AAA is now asking manufacturers to consider setting voice-to-text gadgets to only work when the car is stationary. It also suggests that the only voice-activated tools that should be allowed to work when the car is moving should be those directly related to driving itself, such as switching on windshield wipers.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) has offered some criticism of the study, however. The AAM says the study only looked at driver concentration and didn't properly account for the dangers that come from having one hand off the wheel or looking at a screen.

It also said it was concerned the AAA report might give consumers the wrong impression that hands-free and handheld devices were equally risky.

In effect, the AAM suggested that hands-free tools are still less dangerous than holding a smartphone to one's ear while driving. (Source: time.com)

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