Distracted driving poses a danger to everyone on the road. In 2018, more than 2,800 people were killed in auto accidents involving distracted driving throughout the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In an attempt to save lives and minimize driver distraction, many states enacted laws restricting drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Yet, even hands-free cellular devices cause significant driver distraction.

Distraction study on behind-the-wheel tasks

A study published by AAA set out to measure the amount of distraction drivers experience while engaging in certain tasks. These tasks included the following:

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

Researchers measured drivers’ heart rate, eye movement, brain activity and response time while participants drove a car equipped with monitors, as well as a simulator vehicle.

A look at the results

Studies showed that even hands-free cellphones presented a significant amount of driver distraction. Even though hands-free devices allow drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, they create cognitive distraction.

Cognitive distraction occurs when the brain attempts to concentrate on two tasks simultaneously. Rather than focus on both tasks at once, the brain switches back and forth from one task to the other. As a result, there are moments in time where the brain is not focused on driving at all. This presents serious danger and increases the risk of a deadly car accident.