Washington is one of 21 states banning motorists from using hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. These regulations were enacted as a way to minimize the number of people who are killed and injured in distracted driving car accidents every year. 

Yet, people continue to use cellular devices while driving. Some have turned to using hands-free cellphones as a way to continue using their devices while staying in compliance with the law. The problem lies in the fact that even hands-free devices pose a serious risk to drivers and everyone on the road. 

The study 

AAA released a study that looked at the amount of distraction caused by hands-free cellphones in comparison to other tasks people engage in while driving. Researchers asked drivers in the study to complete the following tasks while operating a vehicle set up with monitors: 

  • Talking using a hand-held cellphone 
  • Talking using a hands-free cellphone 
  • Listening to an audio book 
  • Listening to the radio 
  • Compose an email with voice-activated technology 
  • Talking with someone in the vehicle 

Researchers measured participants’ heart rate, brain activity, eye movement and response time as they completed the tasks. 

The results showed that hands-free cellphones are only slightly less distracting than their hand-held counterparts. Although they minimize visual and manual distractions, they still distract drivers’ focus from the road. 

Cognitive distraction  

According to the National Safety Council, cognitive distraction occurs when people try to focus on two complex activities at the same time. Instead of concentrating on both tasks, the brain bounces from one task to the other. As a result, there are times where the driver is not concentrating on the road at all. Drivers are then unable to react to certain hazards, such as bad weather, objects in the road, bicyclists, pedestrians and traffic signals.