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Study says hands-free cellphones no safer than handheld

As the media has brought the dangers of distracted driving to the nation’s attention, many drivers have reacted by doing their part to make the nation’s roadways safer. In many cases, drivers have decided to switch from using handheld cellphones to a hand-free option while behind the wheel. Although this move is commendable, according to a recent study it may not actually have the desired effect on reducing the likelihood of being in a car accident.

For the study, researchers at the University of Utah Center for the Prevention of Distracted Driving equipped drivers with a brainwave-measuring device to measure cognitive distractions. Researchers then simulated several types of distractions that drivers routinely encounter such as listening to the radio, talking to passengers and handheld and hands-free cellphone conversations.

According to the study, the drivers who used a hands-free cellphone were only slightly less cognitively distracted than those who used a handheld. In addition, those who used speech-to-text devices to send text messages without typing out the message were three times more distracted than someone undistracted.

Although, in an ideal world, this study would make people think twice about using a hands-free device, in reality, many people are likely to appreciate the study’s findings. In a separate study commissioned by AAA, 56 percent of people who were asked about the acceptability of using cellphones while driving said that using a hands-free cellphone was acceptable behavior.

Even though abandoning the use of any type of cellphone while behind the wheel would definitely make roads safer, the study indicates that few people are interested in doing this.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "AAA study on cell phones in cars: "Hands-free is not risk-free," Eryn Brown, June 12, 2013

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