Last October, Florida passed a law making texting while driving a secondary traffic infraction. However, the law did not make it illegal to make phone calls or use hands-free in-car devices, such as a Bluetooth headset or Apple’s Siri. And unfortunately, even those devices that don’t take our eyes off the road are a more significant cause of distracted driving than most people give them credit for.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is interested in just how much hands-free devices distract drivers, and they recently conducted a study to look at the mental workload involved in common voice-based vehicle interactions, such as using a voice command to change the radio station or send a text message. The researchers studied 36 participants who were placed in six different cars with built-in voice-activated infotainment centers and asked to navigate a nine-minute driving course while completing various voice interaction tasks. While the participants were on the course, researchers filmed them, monitored their brain activity and heart rate, and even had a researcher in the passenger seat evaluate them. Afterwards, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their driving experience.
The main takeaway of this very thorough experiment? In the AAA researchers’ own words: “Common voice tasks are generally more demanding than natural conversations, listening to the radio, or listening to a book on tape.” And while all the in-car voice-operated systems caused significant mental distraction, the worst offender was Siri, the virtual personal assistant built into the iPhone. Although participants in the study used a microphone to talk to Siri and were unable to actually look at the phone’s screen, their driving was still negatively impacted, in large part because errors and inconsistencies in Siri’s responses caused drivers to become frustrated and take their attention off the road.
Staying Safe on the Road and Putting Away the Tech
Hands-free devices are frequently touted as a solution to the distracted driving problem, allowing busy drivers to communicate and stay productive as more and more states enact texting-while-driving bans. However, the recent AAA study provides concrete evidence that using a hands-free device, whether it’s on your phone or built into the car, can mentally distract drivers even when the driver’s eyes never leave the road.
The best way to avoid getting into a distracted driving accident is simply to put the voice-command technology away while operating a car. Drivers who frequently use this tech while driving should consider:
Putting their phone in the glove box or trunk while they are driving. It might seem extreme, but if you can’t reach your phone, you can’t give into the temptation to use it while driving.
Looking up directions to a destination ahead of time. If you frequently rely on your GPS to get you places, look up the step-by-step instructions to get to your destination before you set out so that you don’t have to rely on voice commands. If you have a passenger with you, you can also mute your GPS but have the passenger read you the instructions, as studies have shown that natural conversation is less distracting than electronic voice interactions.
Pulling over if it’s important. If you absolutely have to send a text or make a phone call, find somewhere safe to pull over and do so. It’s not worth getting into an accident just to tell a friend that you’re on your way or respond to a question that your co-worker asked in an email.
If you’re involved in an accident that was caused by a distracted driver, talk to a car accident attorney. If you can show that the other driver’s negligence caused your injuries, you may be entitled to compensation.
About the Author:
Ben Murphey is a personal injury lawyer and a partner at the firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphey. Mr. Murphey has 10.0 Superb AVVO rating, was named Top 1% of Car Accident Attorneys by Car Accident Lawyer, and was named a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers in 2014. Mr. Murphey is based in South Florida but represents people and businesses across the state who have been harmed by the wrongful acts of others.