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Cognitive distraction and hands-free devices

Although it is not illegal for drivers in Ohio to use a hand-held cellphone while behind the wheel, engaging in this practice causes a significant number of auto accidents, injuries and deaths in the United States every year. In an attempt to minimize the number of these incidents, many people have started using hands-free devices. However, studies show that even hands-free cellphones are not safe while driving.

A study released by AAA involved measuring the amount of cognitive distraction drivers faced while engaging in different tasks when driving. Participants were asked to do the following activities while operating a simulator, as well as a vehicle equipped with monitoring devices:

  •          Talk on a hand-held cellphone.
  •          Maintain a conversation with a passenger in the vehicle.
  •          Talk on a hands-free cellphone.
  •          Listen to the radio.
  •          Listen to an audio book.
  •          Compose an email using a voice-activated device.

As drivers performed these tasks, researchers monitored their heart rate, brain activity, response time and eye movement.

Results of the study showed that talking on a hands-free cellphone still causes a significant amount of cognitive distraction, when compared to talking on a hand-held cellphone. Although the hands-free cellphone eliminates visual and manual distractions, cognitive distraction can still cause accidents.

According to the National Safety Council, cognitive distraction occurs when a driver's mind is not fully focused on the road. This means that while the driver is engaged in conversation, their concentration is not on driving and they may not be able to react to objects in the road, pedestrians, traffic signs, other drivers and bad weather conditions.


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