There is no question that cellphones cause a significant amount of driver distraction. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 2,841 people in the U.S. lost their lives in distracted driving car accidents in 2018 alone. In an attempt to minimize injuries and deaths caused by distracted driving, some states, including Tennessee, have enacted laws banning drivers from using hand-held cellphones. 

As a way to stay in compliance with the law, many drivers turned to using hands-free devices as a safer alternative to hand-held devices. Yet studies lead some to question whether hands-free cellphones are safe to use at all. 

A look at the study 

AAA released a study which looked at the amount of cognitive distraction generated by drivers using hands-free cellphones. Researchers measured participants’ heart rate, eye movement, response time and brain activity as they completed several tasks while driving. These tasks include the following: 

  • Using voice-activated technology to compose an email 
  • Listening to an audio book 
  • Listening to the radio 
  • Talking to a passenger in the vehicle 
  • Using a hand-held cellphone 
  • Using a hands-free cellphone  

The results showed that while hands-free cellphones minimized visual and manual distractions, they were a significant source of cognitive distraction, which could result in serious car accidents. 

Cognitive distraction 

According to the National Safety Council, the brain cannot concentrate on completing two tasks simultaneously, such as participating in a conversation and driving. Instead, the driver’s focus bounces back and forth from one task to the other. While the mind is focused on the conversation, it is not thinking about the road and is less likely to respond to serious events.