Blog » 2016 » March » Hands-Free Doesn’t Mean Distraction Free

Hands-Free Doesn’t Mean Distraction Free

Americans spend a lot of time in the car. Whether commuting to work, running errands, or traveling to a favorite weekend vacation spot, hours in the car seem like wasted minutes that could be used more productively. We’ve all seen drivers who are reading, fiddling with technology, eating, or even shaving or putting on make-up. While it can be easy to become complacent and feel as if you are passively sitting behind the wheel, the truth is that driving is a very demanding activity that requires 100 percent of your attention to be done well. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted drivers caused 3,154 deaths in 2013 as well as 424,000 injuries.

In an effort to combat the distractions that have become dangerously common since the rise of cell phone use, 14 states prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones and 46 states ban text messaging for all drivers. While hands-free technology has been touted as reducing hand and eye movements, not using your hands to make a phone call, send a text, or change the music does not automatically equal safer driving. From a mental standpoint, using voice commands takes concentration that reduces a driver’s ability to focus on the task of driving.

A recent study by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA) and the University of Utah found that mental distractions from the use of hands-free devices can last for up to 27 seconds after using a voice command. The act of using voice activation involves areas of the human brain that aren’t easily disengaged, especially if the Smartphone or in-car infotainment system makes a mistake in the request or requires a large number of steps to complete the task. Even when the request goes smoothly, motorists put safe driving on hold to talk to the device and can miss traffic signals, bicyclists, pedestrians and more while their mind readjusts to the job of driving. People who are mentally distracted tend to scan the roadway less, missing hazards and failing to identify them, according to a phenomenon known as “inattention blindness.”

Part of the study involved recording distraction time as 322 subjects drove around Salt Lake City neighborhoods at 25 mph or less while using voice commands. The researchers studied Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, and ten in-vehicle information systems and found that all of them increased mental distraction to "potentially unsafe levels." The worst systems of those looked at were Cortana, which rated “highly to very highly distracting,” and Connect in the 2015 Mazda 6, which was rated "very highly distracting." Other findings indicated that practice with the technology did not eliminate the cognitive distraction caused and that older drivers experienced a higher level of cognitive distraction than younger drivers. Distraction time was also increased by drivers frustrated with their system, repeated interruptions by the system, and use of earbud controls.

The value of having your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road is maximized when your brain is fully engaged. While technology is tempting, its availability doesn’t mean we have to use it. Consider using voice-activated systems only in ways that support driving, such as to change the radio or adjust the temperature, and save that post, text, or phone call until after you arrive at your destination.

If you or someone you love has been injured by someone who chose to drive while distracted, you need an experienced attorney to effectively represent your interests. At Stabinski & Funt, P.A., we have successfully represented victims throughout Florida who have been seriously hurt by negligent drivers. We have also assisted families who have lost loved ones in traffic accidents. For over 45 years, we have been helping injured motorists, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists put their lives back on track, and we are ready to help you. For advice on how to proceed next, or if you have any questions about this topic, call 305-643-3100 or fill out a free case evaluation form.

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