We may think these hands-free technologies are the safest way to stay connected, but the AAA Foundation is challenging this assumption. The study focused on research of mental distractions which can lead to suppressed brain activity and impaired driving performance as a result of performing cognitively-demanding tasks.
The study, conducted at the University of Utah, used a driving simulator, a combination of brainwave activity measures, driving performance indicators and other assessments to examine participants in a lab as they performed six common driving tasks. These tasks included listening to the radio, listening to a book on tape, conversing with a passenger, talking on a hand-held phone, talking on a hands-free phone, and interacting with a speech-to-text email system. Researchers then compiled the findings into a ranking scale to determine which activity ranked highest and lowest on mental distraction.
The findings from the study suggested that listening to the radio or a book while driving only create a small increase in cognitive distraction. Phone conversations, however, whether they were while using a hand-held or hands-free device, created significant levels of cognitive distraction. This was proven from the suppressed brain activity in the participants. They also experienced slow reaction times, missed visual cues, and reduced visual scanning of the surrounding environment.
The study concluded that hands-free devices have the same cognitive distracting effects on our brain as a hand-held device does. We may also believe that using a speech-to-text technology may be safer than using a hand-held device or texting while driving, however this method in fact had the highest level of cognitive distraction from all the tasks that were analyzed in the study.
This study unveils concerns we believe do not exist in regards to using hands-free devices while driving. The best way to avoid cognitive distraction and impaired driving is to not talk on a cell phone at all while you are driving. The call, text, or email can wait. Put your phone on silent or turn it off and put it in the glove compartment or back seat so you are not tempted to answer it. Remember: eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, mind on the task.
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