60-Second Science

Hands-Free Interactive Electronics Still Distract Drivers

New car systems allow sending or receiving electronic messages using hands-free devices, but they are still major distractions to driving. Karen Hopkin reports

Are you listening to this podcast while you drive? Then texting your friends about it? Well, don’t do that. The texting, I mean. Because a new study shows that, even if you’re using a hands-free device, sending or receiving electronic messages can prove a major distraction. That’s according to research sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. [David L. Strayer et al., Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile]

More and more car makers are equipping their vehicles with gadgets that allow you to interact with electronics, from checking your GPS to updating your Facebook page. And many of these features are increasingly voice-activated, so you can keep your eyes on the road and your paws at 10 and 2. But hands-free isn’t always risk-free.

Researchers measured drivers’ brain activity as they engaged in common tasks while behind the wheel, like listening to an audio book, talking on the phone or responding to a voice-activated email system. And they found that calling was a challenge, but that corresponding requires serious mental bandwidth, even without the use of fingers. Voice recognition-texting slowed drivers’ reaction times and made them miss seeing things right in front of them. And that kind of miss can lead to a hit.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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