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Are hands-free cellular devices safe?

It is illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving in Maryland and in many other states across the country. In an attempt to comply with the law, you may have turned to using a hands-free cellular device while behind the wheel. These devices are marketed as being a safe alternative to traditional hand-held cellphones, as they eliminate the manual and visual distractions caused by the hand-held types. A study released by AAA, however, shows that hands-free cellphones may not be as safe as some people may think.

In the study, participants were asked to drive a simulator vehicle, as well as an actual car set up with monitoring devices. Researchers measured their heart rate, eye movement, brain activity and response time while they performed a number of distracting activities. These included the following:

  •          Talking on a hands-free cellphone
  •          Talking on a hand-held cellphone
  •          Maintaining a conversation with a passenger in the car
  •          Listening to the radio
  •          Listening to an audio book
  •          Composing an email using voice-activated technology

The results showed that people who talked on a hands-free cellphone experienced only slightly less cognitive distraction than they did while using the hand-held cellphone. The most distracting activity involved using the voice-activated technology.

Cognitive distraction occurs when the brain is focused on something other than the task at hand. According to the National Safety Council, the human brain cannot actively focus on two complex tasks simultaneously. Instead, it bounces back from one task to the other. Since hands-free cellphones use still causes a significant amount of cognitive distraction, researchers report that it is best to avoid using all cellphones while driving.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.