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Cell Phones Distract Drivers, Even With Hands-Free Devices


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The temptation is real: just a quick text, a quick glance, a quick phone call. Even quick distractions can be disastrous while driving, and most drivers know that. But what might surprise many drivers is that even devices that don’t require us to take our hands off the wheel can be just as distracting. In a national survey, about 70 percent of drivers who use hands-free devices do so because they believe it makes them safer drivers. However, research shows those devices don’t improve safety.

Why hands-free devices still distract us

Hands-free devices can give drivers a false sense of safety, according to the National Safety Council. More than one in four crashes involve cell phone use, even hands-free devices. Hands-free devices include speakerphone and Bluetooth devices, whether in the ear or in the dashboard. So why are accidents still happening? The part of the brain we use to process images — such as what’s on the road in front of us — is the same part of the brain we use when we talk on the phone. To concentrate on the phone call, our brain concentrates less on what’s in front of us. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that our ability to drive safely was essentially just as disrupted by a hands-free device as a handheld one. “Increased mental workload and cognitive distractions can lead to a type of tunnel vision, or inattention blindness, where motorists don’t see potential hazards right in front of them,” AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger said in a statement. Another study by the AAA Foundation found some voice-activated dashboard devices can be even more distracting than our phones. Also, using the voice-to-text feature on our phone is actually more dangerous than sending a text with our hands, according to the National Safety Council.

Laws changing across the United States

Laws restricting drivers’ phone use vary across the country. Nationwide, 13 states plus the District of Columbia ban using handheld devices, but no states ban the use of cell phones altogether. Some states ban handheld devices only for new drivers or in certain areas, such as school zones.

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