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Cognitive distraction caused by hands-free phones

Distracted driving accidents are an issue for many states, including Nevada. In an effort to reduce these types of crashes, some state lawmakers have opted to make handheld cellphone use illegal during motor vehicle operation. These laws are likely based on the presumption that hands-free devices are safer; a study by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, however, shows that drivers using hands-free devices can experience cognitive distraction, which comes with its own safety concerns.

According to the AAA study, while handheld phone use is more distracting than hands-free, the difference is not drastic. This means that hands-free phone options are not as safe as people may believe. AAA’s report also notes that highest source of cognitive distraction from in-car activity is speech-to-text systems. This may come as a surprise to some, as drivers using these systems are able to keep their eyes on the road and both hands on the steering wheel. 

AAA’s conclusions are supported by a 2012 National Safety Council white paper, which reports that those who use handheld or hands-free cellphones while operating a motor vehicle have a quadrupled likelihood of involvement in car accidents that result in personal injury and property damage. According to the white paper, this increased risk can be attributed to a phenomenon known as inattention blindness. This term describes situations in which a driver finds it difficult to process information from the driving environment, despite being able to see the objects around them. Lane deviations and slow reaction speed are issues that can arise from inattention blindness. 

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