AAA: "'Hands-free" doesn't mean risk free when driving

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT)  – "Hands free" does not always mean risk free, according to  a new study from the American Automobile Association.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released the results of a study that began in 2011 that investigates the effects of cognitive distractions for drivers.

"Mental distractions from talking on the phone or interacting with voice based systems in the car has a significant cognitive component to it that makes it so you are less safe if you are engaged in those activities," said study author David Strayer.

"Your eyes are on the road. Your hands are on the steering wheel, but your mind is somewhere else. You may find yourself running through a traffic light because you didn't notice it. You were looking out the windshield but your mind was some was somewhere else. It was on that phone conversation."

Participants' brain activity was measured as they performed a variety of tasks behind the wheel, such as "talking on a hands-free cell phone or interacting with a speech-to-text email system."

According to the study, "Sixty-six percent of licensed drivers say driver use of hand-held cell phones is unacceptable; fifty-six percent say hands-free is acceptable," while the research results reveal the voice command technology can cause just as much of a distraction to drivers as manual texting while driving.

Despite the study, Joanne Lewis, who is planning to buy a car within the next year believes voice command systems are safer than texting and driving. "I think it's better. I really do. I think it's better because you don't have to pay as much attention. You got to stop and look at your phone and push buttons," she said.

Central Buick GMC Sales Consultant Jonathan McDaniel says the move towards infotainment systems inside cars is based on consumer demand.

"All the consumers are wanting to be able to do everything that they're smartphone, Apple iPhone can do."

He says the technology to make cars smarter is available, but automakers along with the federal government are trying to figure out how keep consumers safe while offering advanced technology in vehicles.

"The technology is there right now to put the 4G connection in all vehicles. GM has it. Mercedes, Jeep, Dodge, Ford, everybody. But the problem is finding a balance between what can we safely allow consumers to look at on a center console."

Click here to read the study.

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