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Even Hands-Free Calls, Texts Distract Drivers, Study Shows

The latest study by AAA warns it takes drivers 27 seconds to refocus after a call.
The latest study by AAA warns it takes drivers 27 seconds to refocus after a call. Photo Credit: Facebook

Phone technology and driver safety don’t go together, not even hands-free devices built into cars, says a new study by AAA.

The latest look at in-vehicle mental distractions discovered that test subjects needed up to 27 seconds to fully restore their mental focus back to driving. This was after after ending a call or text message from voice-controlled systems in their cars, the Utah-based research team said in a statement.

These lingering distractions, referred to as “residual costs,” were determined by measuring participants’ reaction times to potential hazards as they drove on suburban roads.

“These findings have implications for people who think it’s safe to dial or send a text message at a stoplight, because the distractions from these interactions are likely to persist after the light turns green.” said David Strayer, the University of Utah psychology professor who led the study, sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In prior research, Strayer’s team established a five-point scale to assess distraction levels resulting from activities such as listening to the radio (category 1) and sending voice-activated texts (category 3).

A set of complicated math-memory problems was used to establish the top end of the scale (category 5). The most recent study analyzed distraction levels resulting from the use of voice-controlled information systems available in 10 vehicles and three smartphones.

Using any of these three systems to send text messages significantly increased distraction levels. AAA considers distractions at category 2 or higher to be unsafe.

Among the vehicles, the Chevy Equinox had the lowest, or best, distraction rating (2.4), while the Mazda 6 (4.6) had the highest, or worst, rating. Of the smartphone systems, Google Now performed best (3.0), followed by Apple’s Siri (3.4) and Microsoft Cortana (3.8).

None of these systems met this threshold of 2.

“Developers should aim to reduce mental distractions by designing systems that are no more demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook [a category 1 distraction],” said Lloyd Albert, senior vice president of public-government affairs for AAA Northeast.

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