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Hands-free phones cause cognitive distraction

Many states, including Tennessee, are grappling with the issue of distracted driving. To combat distracted driving behaviors, legislators in multiple states have passed laws prohibiting the use of handheld cellphones while driving. It is likely that many of these legislators were acting on the presumption that hands-free phones and devices are safe. However, a recent report indicates that this may not be true.

The American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that those who use hands-free devices while operating vehicles can still experience cognitive distraction while driving. This is a specific type of distraction which carries distinct safety concerns.

The AAA report explains that hands-free phone use is only slightly less distracting than handheld options. The study also notes that the worst cognitive distractions stem from speech-to-text systems.  Many may find this surprising, as such systems allow drivers to have both hands on their steering wheels and keep their eyes focused on the road.

A National Safety Council white paper, published in 2012, supports AAA’s findings. The NSC paper states that drivers who used cell phones—whether handheld or hands-free—quadrupled their chances of being in a car accident which produced property damage and personal injury. The NSC white paper attributed this increased risk to inattention blindness. Inattention blindness is a term used to describe drivers’ inabilities to process information about their driving environments, despite the fact that they are physically able to see the objects surrounding them. Common results of inattention blindness are lane deviations and slower reaction speeds.

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