Hands-free systems are not distraction-free, AAA report says

A new AAA study says that hands-free systems may lead to drivers being distracted for up to 27 seconds.

A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah says that in-car hands-free systems can be highly distracting for drivers, according to NBC News. The study says that many hands-free systems lead to serious mental distractions so that although drivers may have their hands on the wheel, their attention is not always on the road. With cellphone use now widespread, distracted driving has become one of the leading causes of car accidents in recent years. While hands-free technology is often marketed as a safer alternative to cellphone use while driving, this study is calling such claims into question.

Hands-free driving

The study rated a variety of hands-free systems, including infotainment systems built into many cars as well as voice-activated smartphone systems. While some systems were worse than others, all of those studied were considered as being at least "moderately distracting." The most distracting systems led to drivers taking their mental focus off the road for up to 27 seconds after issuing voice commands, which is the equivalent of driving the length of three football fields when going at 25 mph. However, even with the least distracting systems drivers became mentally distracted for at least 15 seconds.

As the News & Observer points out, the 257 drivers who were analyzed for the study had also been allowed to practice with the systems for five days prior to the study, suggesting that even with practice these hands-free devices are still dangerously distracting.

A safer alternative?

The study's authors point out that the systems that were most distracting for drivers tended to be those that were either less intuitive to use or had trouble understanding voice commands. Some systems, for example, require very specific voice commands in order to work properly. Even if drivers do give the correct commands, the system may still have trouble understanding the driver, which can lead to frustration and motorists paying more attention to getting the command right than on their driving.

The researchers also note that while hands-free systems may be marketed as being safer than cellphones, drivers should still limit their use of these "safer" systems. The authors say that even when stopped in traffic or at intersections, drivers should be careful with hands-free systems since drivers always need to be prepared to respond to any situation.

Personal injury

Distracted driving is one of the biggest killers on North Carolina's roads and highways. No matter what form the distraction takes, the fact is that not paying attention to the road is a risky behavior that all too often leads to serious accidents. Those who have been injured in accidents that may have been the result of another driver's negligence should contact a personal injury attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help deliver results and guide clients through the often complicated claims process following an accident.