The dangers of using cellphones while behind the wheel are well-known. Yet, drivers in New York and across the country continue to engage in this deadly behavior. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine people die everyday and more than 1,000 people are injured as a result of distracted driving accidents. Many states, including New York, have enacted laws prohibiting the use of hand-held cellphones while driving in order to minimize this danger. Some drivers use hands-free cell phones as a way to stay in compliance with the law and conduct their business. While hands-free cellphones are not illegal, studies show they may not be as safe as some people may think.

A study published by AAA found that hands-free cell phones pose a significant amount of cognitive distraction. Researchers asked participants to perform a series of tasks while driving a simulator, as well a car equipped with monitoring devices. These tasks include the following:

  • Listening to the radio
  • Listening to an audio book
  • Talk using a hands-free cell phone
  • Talk using a hand-held cell phone
  • Compose an email using voice-activated technology
  • Maintain a conversation with a passenger in the vehicle

Each participants’ heart rate, eye movement, brain activity and response time was measured. The results showed that talking on a hands-free cell phone is only slightly less distracting than hand-held cell phones.

Cognitive distraction occurs when people attempt to focus on two complex tasks simultaneously. Rather than concentrate on both at once, the brain shifts back and forth between one task and the other. This leaves moments where the brain is not focused on the road at all.