New study highlights distracting nature of hands-free technology

A new study indicates that hands-free technology creates significant levels of distraction and may markedly raise the risk of car accidents.

In recent years, distracted driving has become a growing safety threat to people in Bensalem and other parts of Pennsylvania. According to materials from the state Department of Transportation, 13,964 distracted driving accidents, including 49 fatal car crashes, occurred in the state just in 2014. Since driver distraction can be a difficult causative factor to establish, even more accidents may have involved this reckless behavior.

Many drivers believe hands-free technology offers a solution to this growing problem. Unlike handheld cell phones and electronics, hands-free devices don't require any manual or visual attention. Unfortunately, though, new research suggests that the mental distraction associated with these devices still poses a serious safety concern.

Dangerous periods of inattention

According to NBC News, the University of Utah and AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently compared the distracting effects of several voice-activated systems. The researchers observed participants as they drove around a neighborhood while performing various tasks with hands-free cell phones or hands-free in-car entertainment systems.

The researchers found that virtually every system had the ability to create levels of mental distraction that could be dangerous. All of the systems were rated moderately distracting, highly distracting or very highly distracting. Disturbingly, the researchers also found that the participants exhibited mental inattention for long periods of time after using the most distracting systems.

In the worst cases, drivers remained distracted for up to 27 seconds after using these systems. During this time, the drivers, who were traveling at relatively low speeds, covered the length of three football fields before refocusing their attention on driving. At higher speeds, this type of prolonged distraction could greatly raise the risk of catastrophic car accidents.

Common driver misconceptions

The distraction associated with hands-free in-car systems is especially troubling, given the attitudes that drivers have toward these systems. Last year, Fox News reported the following issues that are frequently associated with these systems:

  • The systems are not formally regulated or tested for safety.
  • Poorly designed systems that tend to make more errors can cause significantly more distraction.
  • Many drivers wrongly assume that the inclusion of these systems in vehicles is proof of their safety.

Given these misunderstandings, it's not surprising that the use of these hands-free systems is on the rise. Back in 2013, NBC News reported that AAA projected the number of vehicles with this technology would increase more than six-fold by 2018. That year, this technology is expected to be a feature in roughly 62 million vehicles. Unfortunately, if the recent study is accurate, this means that distracted driving accidents may only become more common.

When distraction represents negligence

Regardless of the form that distracted driving takes, it can often be considered negligence, given the increased crash risk that it creates. As a result, anyone who has been hurt in an inattention-related accident may be able to seek compensation for his or her injuries and other losses. Injury victims may benefit from exploring these potential remedies further by meeting with an auto accident attorney.