Hands-free technology is considered by many to be a boon to driving safety. Physically holding and/or looking at a device while driving is highly distracting, and distracted driving is one of the biggest contributors to car crashes. When hands-free devices give drivers the ability to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, they help to mitigate distracted driving. Or do they? According to the National Safety Council (NSC), “Hands-free devices and voice command systems are not safer.” Rather, they “create a cognitive distraction as the driver mentally engages with interactive tasks.”
The reality is, hands-free devises actually pose their own distracted-driving risk. Research has shown that just speaking on a phone creates significant cognitive distraction. One study revealed that drivers engaged in a conversation that triggered their visual imagination failed to see road hazards directly in front of them because they tended to focus on a smaller area of the road than drivers not speaking on the phone. As a matter of fact, an NCS study showed drivers using technology devices fail to see as much as 50 percent of the information needed to navigate the roads safely! This includes things like road signs, road conditions, and unanticipated obstacles.
But what about talking to passengers in the car? Isn’t that just as distracting? Actually, research has shown that driving while interacting with passengers does not pose the same risks. What’s the difference? Passengers who are in the car are able to see road hazards and moderate their conversations accordingly. They also give non-verbal cues that make the exchange less cognitively demanding on the driver.
Still, anything that causes us to be distracted while driving should be avoided. According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracting driving is directly responsible for approximately 80% of car wrecks. It is vital when we’re driving that our focus stay on the task at hand. Counter to what many of us believe, our brains are not actually equipped to handle multi-tasking. Believe it or not, our brains are incapable of doing two things at once, and they must constantly switch giving full focus to each task. This means that neither task ever gets the total attention it requires.
Though many states have recognized the risk of driving while using hand-held devices and have passed legislation accordingly, no states have yet banned the use of hands-free devices—which includes cell phones, voice-activated controls, virtual personal assistants, and artificial intelligence technologies—in cars. Not only have our laws not kept up with the risks inherent in the use of these technologies while driving, but many businesses expect, and sometimes even require, their employees to take advantage of them while driving.
One of our goals here at Accident & Injury Chiropractic is to help make drivers more aware of behaviors and choices that can make driving either riskier or safer. We all need to be aware of the dangers of driving while using any devices—hands-on or hands-free. When driving, consider avoiding the use of all devices that might distract you from giving your full attention to your driving environment. And remember, if you do get in a car wreck, we now have 12 locations throughout the Metroplex where you can get the Pro Treatment to help you get back out on the road.