Drivers are bombarded with distractions no matter the length or complexity of the trip. From eating breakfast on the way to work in the morning to answering email on the way home in the evening, drivers are constantly tempted to multitask while behind the wheel. Unfortunately, certain technological advances make distracted driving easier than ever. But are safety features creating an unsafe environment?
Researchers at the University of Utah questioned whether various hands-free electronics made for a safer trip since drivers were not required to look at a screen or manipulate a menu with their hands. In association with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, university researchers ran two independent studies.
- Smartphone hands-free study: One study focused on drivers using voice-activated commands to interact with their smartphones. They were dialing phone numbers, calling contacts, changing a music selection and sending texts.
- Vehicle infotainment system study: In the other study, the drivers were asked to interact with the vehicle’s built-in infotainment system. They were studied while voice-dialing, voice-contact calling and making music selections.
Both studies were conducted in the same manner. Drivers would travel at speeds of 25 mph or less along a designated 2.7-mile course through a Salt Lake City neighborhood. Researchers were occupants of the car and tested the drivers on the levels of distraction. The drivers in both studies ranged in age from 21 to 70 years old.
The drivers were told to react to a flashing LED light on a head-mounted unit. When they saw the light, they were to press a thumb switch. Drivers were measured on their reaction time as well as accuracy.
According to researchers, the most distracting of the devices studied could provide a level of cognitive impairment for as long as 27 seconds. The least distracting device could distract the drivers for as long as 15 seconds after use.
Unfortunately, while making a hands-free call or sending a voice-to-text message might seem like the safest level of driving distraction, there are still dangerous levels of cognitive impairment. Drivers of all ages, experience-levels and locales are cautioned to avoid any type of distraction and save multitasking activities until they have safely reached their destination.