Hands Free Does Not Necessarily Mean Risk Free

Distracted driving continues to be a real problem in Kentucky and throughout the United States. Activities such as texting, making phone calls, changing GPS settings, or even talking to other passengers may contribute to a car accident. These behaviors are factors in an increasing number of car accidents and injuries. As distracted driving laws restricting texting and the use of hand-held cellphones have become more widespread, many drivers have turned to alternate forms of technology to stay connected. Bluetooth systems enable drivers to go hands free behind the wheel and avoid traffic violations. But do hands free devices prevent distracted driving, or are they giving drivers a false sense of security behind the wheel? Are hands-free users continuing to put themselves and other drivers at risk?

Using Hands Free Devices While Driving

While a number of states have made it illegal to text behind the wheel, most states continue to allow drivers to use cellphones and other handheld devices. According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), there are 14 states that currently have laws on the books prohibiting drivers from using cellphones to make or receive calls, while others only prohibit cellphone use among novice drivers. In Kentucky, the law prohibits drivers under the age of 18 and school bus drivers from making or receiving calls on a handheld cellphone. These are primary laws that permit law enforcement to pull over drivers and ticket them based only on those grounds.

Kentucky does not generally restrict adults from using cell phones while driving. But conducting business or chatting with friends and family while driving and using a handheld device has become increasingly unpopular. Many drivers now prefer to use hands free, Bluetooth enabled devices.

According to Consumer Reports, many newer car models come equipped with Bluetooth technology that allows you to connect with your cellphone through your vehicle’s audio system. There also are add-on systems available allowing users to add Bluetooth to cars that are not equipped. Both options allow users a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to stayed connected hands free. While using these devices may make it easier for drivers to make calls, it is highly debatable whether using a hands free device while driving is any safer in terms of avoiding distraction and the risk of accidents. Operating any electronic device creates a cognitive distraction, requiring the user to divert attention from the task of driving.

Distracted Driving and Its Effects on the Brain

According to Distraction.gov, a national website operated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 3,000 deaths and more than 400,000 injuries occur each year as the result of drivers engaging in distracted driving, such as texting and using cellphones behind the wheel. The website reports that more than 600,000 drivers are using their cellphones or other electronic devices behind the wheel at any given moment throughout the U.S. What is it about electronic devices that causes distracted driving accidents?

The National Safety Council’s (NSC) report Understanding the Distracted Brain states that doing any combination of activities at one time can have a significant impact on the brain’s cognitive functions. While many consider multitasking a valued ability, the reality is that the brain is only able to handle one task at a time. In terms of comprehending incoming information, the brain undergoes a four-step process:

  1. It selects the specific information it will attend to;
  2. It processes the information;
  3. It encodes the information to create memory;
  4. It stores the memory within the brain.

To act on this new information, the brain must go through two additional cognitive functions, which are to access the stored information, and then to act on it. Handling multiple tasks at once or switching back and forth from one task to another, such as paying attention to the road while also paying attention to incoming messages, can result in brain overload. The brain’s cognitive processes become impaired, and the potential results for drivers include slower reaction times, and inattention to detail.

Hands Free Devices and Distracted Driving

In light of the research, are hands free devices safer when driving as opposed to using hand held cellphones? According to a Washington Post report, the answer is no. While Bluetooth advocates claim hands free devices help to reduce or eliminate the potentially serious risks associated with using a cell phone behind the wheel, the Post sought to put these devices to the test by contacting the hosts of the popular Discovery Channel show MythBusters. Using a driving simulator at Stanford University, an elaborate virtual world was created, filled with pedestrians, bicyclists, scooters, and other obstacles that actual drivers encounter every day.

In a MythBusters YouTube video using the simulated driving course, the researchers tested 30 drivers. Fifteen drivers were using handheld cellphones while behind the wheel of the driving simulator, while the other 15 drivers used hands free devices. The results showed:

  • Of the 15 using handheld cellphones, one passed the simulated test, five failed the test by driving the wrong way, and nine failed by crashing their simulated vehicles.
  • Of the 15 using hands free devices, one passed, six failed due to wrong way driving, and eight failed by crashing their simulated vehicles.

Based on the results of the experiment, MythBusters found there was no evidence to indicate that hands free driving dangers are significantly reduced compared to those associated with using a handheld cellphone behind the wheel. Additional research on the use of hands-free devices while driver is needed.

Need Legal Help? Contact Our Kentucky Car Accident Attorneys

If you or someone you care about has been injured as the result of a distracted driving accident, contact the Becker Law Office today. Our experienced car accident attorneys understand the serious injuries that can result from these types of accidents, and the impact they can have on your ability to work or even to engage in hobbies and activities you once enjoyed. We provide legal representation to assist you in holding responsible drivers accountable, so that you can get the compensation you deserve. We serve Lexington, Louisville, and Florence, Kentucky. Call or contact our office online today for a free consultation.