Study: Hands free cellphones and cognitive distraction

A study looking at drivers and hands free cellphones found that these devices can be a serious form of driver distraction.

There is no question that using a hand-held cellphone to talk and text while driving can be deadly. According to, 3,129 people were killed and 431,000 people were injured in distracted driving car accidents in 2014 alone. While Georgia is not one of the 14 states in the nation that prohibit drivers from using hand-held cellphones, many motorists in Atlanta and across the state have switched to using hands free devices in an attempt to reduce distraction and increase safety while behind the wheel.

Hands free cellphones reduce manual distractions and eliminate visual distractions for motorists, as they do not require them to use their hands or eyes in order to operate. These devices, however, do not decrease the level of cognitive distraction that drivers experience while trying to focus on the road.

Conducting research

A study published by AAA looked at just how much distraction drivers undergo when using hands free cellphones, in comparison to a number of other tasks participants were asked to engage in while driving. The two-part study involved participants driving a vehicle that was set up with specialized monitoring devices, as well as a driving simulator. Each driver was asked to perform various tasks, which included the following:

• Listening to an audio book

• Engaging in conversation with another passenger in the vehicle

• Talking on a hand-held and a hands free cellphone

• Listening to the radio

• Writing an email using an voice-activated device

During each task, monitors evaluated the driver's heart rate, mental workload, response time, accuracy and brain activity. Participants were also asked to answer several questions, giving researchers a personal interpretation of their distraction level.

Analyzing the results

Researchers created a system that rated each driver's level of cognitive distraction on a scale of one to five. With a rating of 3.06, participants' experienced the greatest level of cognitive distraction when using the voice-activated technology. Engaging in conversation using a hand-held device had a rating of 2.45, and the hands free device was given a rating of 2.27, which were both significant. Listening to the radio, on the other hand, scored a low 1.21.

Study results show that while drivers may feel as though they can maintain a conversation using a hands free device, doing so creates a substantial amount of cognitive distraction. When the brain is not fully focused on the road, the risk of a catastrophic auto accident increases.

Victim of distraction

If you are the victim of another driver's negligence, you could benefit from speaking to a personal injury lawyer in Georgia. An attorney may be able to go over the details of your case and explore your legal routes.