Q

Why do safety experts say hands-free talking and texting is dangerous?

A

Everywhere you go, from going to work at Woodward Governor Company in Loves Park or shopping at Cherryvale Mall in Rockford, you see distracted drivers—eating, applying makeup, shaving, talking, texting, or fiddling with the radio. They fail to recognize that this behavior takes their focus away from their primary task of driving, putting them at risk of a serious accident.

Effective January 1, 2014, Illinois prohibits the use of handheld devices while driving. Many people now use a hands-free device to talk and text, but are they safer that way?

Current Research Says Hands-Free Devices Are Not Safer

According to the results of a study conducted by the University of Utah on behalf of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the answer is no. In an innovative study that utilized laboratory simulations and instrumented vehicles, researchers evaluated the cognitive workload associated with specific tasks by measuring brain activity and assessing specific driving performance indicators to come up with a rating scale. Following are two significant findings:

  • Risks associated with talking on the phone—whether the driver held it in his hand or used a hands-free device—were very similar. Talking on the phone while driving was deemed to be a moderate crash risk.
  • Risks associated with texting using a voice-to-text application posed extensive risk of a crash.

According to the lead author of the study, University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer, “These new, speech-based technologies in the car can overload the driver’s attention and impair their ability to drive safely. An unintended consequence of trying to make driving safer—by moving to speech-to-text, in-vehicle systems—may actually overload the driver and make them less safe.”

For now, you may want to think about avoiding the use of hands-free devices while you drive. What do you think? Express your opinion in the comments below.