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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Study of Cognitive Distractions Proves Hands-free No Safer than Hand-held Technology

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Distracted driving is an ongoing threat to motorists contributing to, or directly causing, an accident. Although the number one cause of distracted driving is talking or texting behind the wheel, any driver distraction – eating, drinking, using a GPS, changing the radio, etc. is simply not as safe as a driver devoting full attention to the road.

While many states have taken action to reduce the number of distracted driving fatalities, far too many accidents still occur.  According to the United States Department of Transportation, at any given time, approximately 660,000 drivers are using their cell phones while driving.  Even though drivers are aware of the risks, they tend believe they are skilled at multi-tasking behind the wheel and nothing will happen to them.

Hands-free devices are often are seen as a solution to reduce driver distraction because they help eliminate two obvious risks – visual (taking our eyes off the road) and mechanical (taking our hands off the wheel).  However, cognitive distractions (when the mind is preoccupied with something else) are often overlooked, yet equally dangerous.

A study released by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety is considered the most comprehensive to date showing that hands-free devices can create the same levels of cognitive distraction as hand-held devices.  Over 150 participants were asked to perform six different tasks which included:

  • talking on a hand-held cell phone
  • listening to an audio book
  • using a voice-to-text technology
  • talking to a passenger
  • using a hands-free phone

In order to create a cognitive measuring scale, researchers first asked participants to focus only on the task of driving. The tests were performed using a driving simulator, a lab and an instrumented vehicle.  Researchers observed the following with complicated tasks:

  • Slower braking time
  • Reduced visual scanning of the driving environment
  • Missed visual cues that would alert a driver to a potential danger
  • Brain activity decreased in sections used for driving
  • Lower accuracy in peripheral detection test

Data was gathered through the use of cameras, sensors and other detection equipment.  The results of the study showed that drivers who were engaged in more complicated tasks such as voice to text technology and talking on hands-free cell phones experienced the same level of cognitive distraction as when they used a hand-held cell phone.

So how do you get people to stop using their phone while driving? Obviously, this is one of those things that are easier said than done.  Laws, coupled with high-visibility enforcement and strict consequences may be the most promising. Technology solutions can prevent calls and messages from being sent or received by drivers when a vehicle is moving.  But nothing is easier than simply putting the cell phone out of reach before you get behind the wheel.  Distractions of any kind are not worth risking your life or the life of others.

I challenge my readers to try it personally for one month – no cell phone use while driving, even hands-free.

Mark Bello has thirty-six years’ experience as a trial lawyer and fourteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice, Public Citizen, the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.