Research: Hands-free phones still dangerous distractions for California drivers

As research sheds light on the risks associated with driving while using handheld phones, many people in California may feel relieved that the state bans drivers from all handheld cellphone use. Unfortunately, ongoing research suggests that these measures may not be enough to prevent distracted driving accidents involving cellphones. Though hands-free cellphones may seem less distracting than handheld phones, they are not necessarily safe for drivers to use.

Multitasking myths

Many people believe the manual and visual distraction handheld phones create is the main reason these devices are dangerous. However, the cognitive distraction that any cellphone introduces is also harmful, according to the National Safety Council. Research into how well drivers perform while using hands-free devices or facing other cognitive distractions has produced the following disturbing figures:

  • Drivers talking on cellphones, whether handheld or hands-free, are 4 times more likely to be involved in accidents. The use of either type of cellphone is estimated to play a role in over one-fifth of all car accidents.
  • The brain does not multitask when faced with two cognitive tasks; instead, it switches rapidly between them. Studies have found that this results in attention blindness and delayed reaction times.
  • Simply listening to someone speaking dampens activity in the parietal lobe by 37 percent. This part of the brain processes movement and plays an integral role during driving.
  • While carrying on a two-way conversation, a driver may fail to take in as much as 50 percent of the visual stimuli in his or her immediate environment.
  • Drivers using cellphones actually show slower response times than drivers who are legally intoxicated with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent.

Unfortunately, due to misconceptions about the risks of using handheld cellphones, many drivers remain in danger of distracted driving accidents.

Harmful misunderstandings

The NSC reports that 14 states and Washington, D.C. have banned handheld cellphone use. No city or state has regulated the use of hands-free cellphones, even though more than 30 studies have found that hands-free cellphones offer no safety benefits over handheld cellphones.

Four out of five motorists believe hands-free cellphones are safer to use than handheld cellphones. Seven out of ten people who use hands-free cellphones cite safety as the top reason that they do so. Another 53 percent of drivers believe hands-free devices must be safe to use if automakers are building them directly into vehicles.

Unfortunately, these mistaken beliefs may result in laws that fail to protect drivers, along with risky decisions on the part of motorists who believe they are being conscientious. Until laws and public behavior reflect the fact that hands-free devices are not without risks, needless accidents may affect many innocent motorists.

Anyone who has been hurt in a California distracted driving accident should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss the circumstances and the possibility of seeking compensation.