Driver distractions have joined alcohol and speeding as leading factors in fatal and serious injury crashes. Among the many distractions, cell phones are increasingly ranked as a significant cause of interference on the roadway. The National Safety Council estimated 21 percent of all crashes in 2010 involved talking on cell phones – accounting for 1.1 million crashes that year. In efforts to solve this problem, Illinois among many other states passed legislation making it illegal to use a handheld cell phone while driving. However nearly all legislation focuses on banning only handheld phones or only texting while driving. All state laws allow hands-free cell phone use.
Vehicle manufactures reacted to these laws by including more wireless and voice recognition communications technologies in vehicles. However, laws banning handheld cell phone use while driving give a false impression that using hands-free devices are safe. In fact, studies have revealed that hands-free devices are not as safe as many think.
While hands-free devices eliminate the risks associated with visual distractions and manual interference such as taking your hand off the wheel, they surface a completely new problem – cognitive distractions. A study conducted by AAA found that compared to other activities (e.g. listening to the radio, conversing with passengers, etc.) interacting with hands-free devices is the most cognitively distracting. This is because hands-free tasks require greater concentration on the part of the driver and attention is withdrawn from the processing of information necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle.
Drivers using hand-free devices have a tendency to look at but not see objects; experiencing what has been referred to as “inattention blindness.” Meaning drivers are looking out the windshield, but do not process everything in the roadway and surrounding environment necessary to effectively monitor their surroundings and response to unexpected situations. Their field of view narrows and they miss visual cues critical to navigate safely. This happens because when drivers are trying to multitask, the brain experiences an increased workload and information processing slows, thereby slowing a driver’s response time and increasing crash risk.
There is a shared responsibility among all involved in cell phone conversations to avoid calling and talking while driving. As a driver, you should consider your exposure to cognitive distractions and increased crash risk while using hands-free technologies while you are behind the wheel. Additionally, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and other drivers on the roadway who may be distracted while driving.
If you are or someone you know has been injured because of the negligence of a distracted driver, you may be entitled to compensation. Call our lawyers for a free consultation.