Study: Hands-free not necessarily risk free for Texas drivers

On behalf of Randall D. Moore at The Law Offices of Randall D. Moore, PLLC

Using hands-free cellphones, and other cognitive distractions, could lead to auto accidents resulting in serious injuries or death.

The advent of cellphones has made life easier for many people throughout Texas. For drivers, however, cellphones have only added to the potential hazards on the road. At any given daylight moment, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that as many as 660,000 people were using cellphones while driving in 2011. Text messaging, talking and otherwise using these devices while driving may increase a driver’s likelihood of being involved in an accident. Such collisions may result in serious injuries or death for them, as well as other motorists and passengers.

In an effort to increase drivers’ safety, many motor vehicle and cellphone manufacturers have developed hands-free technologies. These technologies have widely been viewed as an effective solution for motorists. Based on a recent study, however, drivers may be just as distracted by hands-free technologies.

Distractions facing today’s drivers

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, distractions are any tasks that take a driver’s attention off of the task of operating and navigating his or her vehicle. Typically, these behaviors fall into three categories – manual, visual or cognitive distractions. Manual distractions are those that take a motorist’s hands off the steering wheel, while visual distractions take his or her eyes off the road. Cognitive distractions, on the other hand, are those activities that divert a driver’s attention away from the task of driving.

Understanding the impact of cognitive distractions

Cognitive distractions have been the most difficult for researchers to understand. As such, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study to examine the impact that these types of distractions have on motorists. To do this, researchers first established a scale for measuring cognitive distractions.

For the study, participants were asked to perform numerous tasks in a lab, in driving simulators and in instrumented vehicles. These tasks included driving without outside distractions, driving while listening to an audiobook and the radio, talking to a passenger while driving and performing complex math problems while driving. Additionally, researchers asked participants to drive while talking on hand-held cellphones, using hands-free devices and using speech-to-text technologies. While performing the tasks, participants were monitored by the researchers using cameras, electronic sensors and other equipment.

Hands-free technologies still a risk for drivers

Based on the study’s findings, using hands-free cellphone options are among the most distracting activities for drivers. This includes the use of speech-to-text technologies. The level of distraction posed by these tasks was, in large part, due to increased mental workloads for the study’s participants.

As a result of using hands-free technologies, participants in the study experienced compromised brain function and slowed reaction times. Additionally, the study showed that these types of distractions resulted in missed visual cues and narrowed fields of vision. Thus, the study showed that taking people’s hands off the wheel or eyes of the road are not the only ways to distract them from driving. Like other distractions, cognitive distractions can also lead to motor vehicle collisions, which can have serious consequences.

Working with an attorney

When people suffer injuries in distracted driving collisions, they often require medical treatment and care. As a result, they may incur undue medical expenses, and suffer lost wages while they are off of work recovering. In these cases, however, the distracted driver may be held liable for the resulting damages. Therefore, those who have experienced this type of situation may benefit from consulting with an attorney. A legal representative may explain their rights, as well as their options for seeking financial compensation.