Hands free systems still distract drivers by as much as 27 seconds

Published: October 25, 2015

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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While hands free systems are touted as the ideal way to let drivers use their smartphones and other mobile devices when operating a vehicle, they could not be the answer after-all. Indeed, research conducted by the AAA shows that while hands free systems may not be a physical hindrance, they are a mental one.

The study found that mental diversion from using hands free units can last for as much as 27 seconds after use, meaning drivers are distracted for nearly half a minute, even if physically they still have control of the vehicle (hands on the wheel, eyes on the road). The research was conducted on ten vehicles from different manufacturers, each offering their own hands free systems. The AAA said the results raised "new and unexpected concerns."

"The lasting effects of mental distractions pose a hidden and pervasive danger that would likely come as a surprise to most drivers," said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Motorists could miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while the mind is readjusting to the task of driving."

However, the research also found that the level distraction depends on which vehicle, manufacturer, and system is in question. Automobile manufacturers use different systems, proprietary ones that are slightly different from rival brands. That may change in the future with mobile platforms such as Apple iOS and Google Android muscling in on the industry, manufacturers may use uniform systems.

In the study, AAA found that the Chevrolet Equinox was equipped with the least distracting hands free system, with drivers mentally hindered for just 15 seconds after use. The auto responsible for the high of 27 seconds was the Mazda 6 and the AAA pointed out that even at just 25 miles per hour that a driver could travel nearly 300 yards in the time it takes to stop being distracted.

"The massive increase in voice-activated technologies in cars and phones represents a growing safety problem for drivers," said Marshall Doney, AAA's president and CEO. "We are concerned that these new systems may invite driver distraction."