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A look at the safety of hands-free cellphones

Although it is not illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving in Missouri, a number of people have turned to using hands-free cellphones in an attempt to reduce distracted driving. Hands-free devices allow motorists to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel while driving. Yet are hands-free cellphones really safer to use than their hand-held counterparts? A study released by AAA found that the hands-free cellphones still create a significant amount of cognitive distraction, which can lead to motor vehicle accidents.

During the study, researchers measured participants’ heart rate, brain activity, response time and eye movement as they operated a simulator vehicle and an actual car. Participants were asked to perform a number of tasks, including talking on a hand-held cellphone, talking on a hands-free cellphone, listening to the radio, listening to an audio book, maintaining a conversation with a passenger in the car and composing an email using a voice-activated device. The results showed that people experienced a significant amount of cognitive distraction when they used the hands-free cellphone. In fact, the hands-free cellular device was only slightly less distracting than using a hand-held cellphone.

The study shows that even though using a hands-free cellphone reduces the amounts of visual and manual distraction, it still poses a threat to drivers’ safety. The brain cannot concentrate on two complex tasks at the same time. Instead, it switches back and forth between one task and the other. The only way to truly minimize distractions is to eliminate talking on the cellphone altogether.  

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