STUDY: Hands-free devices still distract drivers

Published: Jun. 13, 2013 at 1:17 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 13, 2013 at 3:39 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A new study indicates that sending text messages with hands-free voice activated systems may not be as safe as the motoring public may think.

More and more new vehicles the Ford Escape are equipped with voice activated technology designed to control such features as your cell phone, sound system, climate control and GPS, all without using your hands.

However, is it really safer?

Cheryl Parker with AAA Cincinnati believes hands-free devices may give motorists a false sense of security.

"People think that my hands are on the wheel, my eyes are on the road, it must be safe to use this technology, but we found with this newer voice-activated technology, there's an extensive risk and threat to traffic safety," said Parker.

AAA partnered with the University of Utah and wired the heads of drivers with sensors, and then gave them an array of tests behind the wheel. Parker says those tests reveal the limits of multi-tasking behind the wheel.

"The participants who were using that technology while they were trying to drive... Their mental workload was greater. They weren't as focused on things, and they would miss things like stop signs, pedestrians, other vehicles," said Parker.

The study results come as no surprise to law enforcement.

Clermont County Sheriff A.J. Rodenberg told FOX19, "The more people have in their vehicles that they have to deal with, whether it be hands-free or not hands-free, it distracts them from the job at hand, and what we're seeing is we're having a lot more crashes that are the result of inattentive driving."

"When you're focusing on the hands-free you're still talking. Your mind is still distracted. You trend to get into tunnel vision," said Sgt. Dexter Howard with the Ohio State Patrol. "You're still looking straight ahead. You're not checking your mirrors. You're not focusing on the red lights, and you're not focusing on the distance between you and other vehicles."

FOX19 talked to some area drivers to find out what they think.

"I'm worried that they're going to hit me or someone else and kill somebody, and it's not worth it. You know, the phone call can wait," said John Harmon of Western Hills.

Alison Simpson of Edgewood argued, "I think it's better to have the hands-free system rather than the actual device.

AAA is now talking with vehicle manufacturers to get them to think about the consequences of all this new technology. The auto club would like to see vehicles set up so that the devices can only be activated when the car is safely parked.

The National Safety Council estimates 24% of all traffic accidents around the nation involve mobile phone use, despite bans in several states.

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