Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hands-Free Phone Systems Pose Distractions

11/7/14 - A hands-free phone system for use while driving became a required accessory under California state law, in the hope that a lack of physical distraction would reduce the general distraction of a driver and thus prevent accidents from occurring as frequently. While such hands-free systems do, for the most part, prevent drivers from needing to take their hands off of the steering wheel, a recent study performed by the American Automobile Association and the University of Utah provides compelling evidence that the complicated and error-prone systems may actually cause more distraction than they prevent. Jerry Hirsch, in his L.A. Times article, summarizes the results of this study and theorizes as to how such systems could be made more safe.

The study tested cognitive distraction, focusing on the mental strain of such systems as compared to simply the physical or visual distraction that any phone system could bring about. If one is thinking about too much, one tends to block out seemingly “irrelevant” stimuli, which can slow down one's reaction time and thus lead to a car accident. In much the same way, frustration at a voice-controlled system's mistakes or confusion related to the many features of such systems can lead to more distraction than even taking one's eyes off of the road. This, of course, does not imply that one should be using hand-held phone systems while driving either.

As the study concludes, no matter what kind of hands-free phone system one's car may have, the only real way to avoid distraction and be safe while driving is to avoid cell phone use entirely. To reduce distractions caused by hands-free phone systems, one should make sure that they fully understand how to use the system before trying to use it while actually driving. While Hirsch does quote sources that claim that the study shows little about the relationship between phone systems and distracted driving, most of his data shows that distracted driving is dangerous driving. Any distraction, no matter how slight, can have a drastic impact.

From errors in voice recognition to overly-complex programs, hands-free phone systems can be quite distracting. However, research shows that this doesn't have to be so. Manufacturers could, in future years, develop simpler, and thus safer, hands-free systems to prevent distractions while driving. Any form of distraction, whether physical, visual, or mental, reduces general safety, and due to this, it is always safer to just ignore one's phone while driving.

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