A new study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicates that hands-free isn’t distraction free. The study revealed that a driver can be plagued by potentially hazardous cognitive distractions for up to 27 seconds after completing such secondary tasks as making a call, adjusting the car stereo, or using voice commands to send a text message.
According to a news release from AAA Michigan, the study shows mental distractions can still exist even when a driver has his or her hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
Because many people view hands-free devices as safe ways to perform secondary tasks while driving, this new information poses some interesting and surprising issues with respect to on-board information systems.
In fact, motorist Nina Pinkston considers hands-free technology to be vastly different from hand-held cellular use because it allows a driver to keep their eyes on the road. While she uses hands-free devices for calls and texts while she is driving, she does concede that accidents could happen at any time.
Another motorist, Ron Vander Vliet, will answer calls without the aid of his car’s hands-free system. Though he did report that he will not text while driving because it would take his eyes off the road. The new AAA research, however, shows that hands-free technology does not liberate drivers from distracted driving.
Researchers David Strayer and Joel Cooper of the University of Utah, tested the hands-free technologies of ten 2015 model-year vehicles, using three types of smart phone systems. According to the news release, 257 drivers ages 21-70 participated in the vehicle study. An additional 65 drivers ages 21-68 tested the three different phone systems.
The vehicle with the best-performing hands-free technology is the Chevrolet Equinox. The Mazda 6 demonstrated the poorest performance. Of the three phone systems evaluated, Google Now had the best showing, compared to Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana. However, the study indicated that all the systems tested escalated the potential for dangerous levels of mental distraction.
According to the release, drivers in the worst-performing vehicle systems studied traveled a distance nearly equal to three football fields at 25 mph during the 27 seconds after completing a distracting task. However, even the highest performing systems in the study left drivers impaired for 15 seconds after such a task.
The highest performing systems were user-friendly with minimal errors. And while familiarity with a particular system lessened distraction dangers, it did not entirely eliminate them.
The residual impacts of mental distraction create a general driving hazard that would likely catch many motorists off-guard, causing them to miss important visual clues, such as traffic signs, pedestrians, and other vehicles while their mind returns to the primary task of driving.
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