Hands-Free Is Not the Same as Distraction-Free

Posted by: Salvatore J. Zambri, founding member and partner

For a number of years, I have blogged and made presentations to teens and their parents about the life-threatening dangers of distracted driving because I believe it is a serious issue that confronts drivers every day they get behind the wheel.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 3,000 deaths last year were linked to distracted driving accidents. A new study commissioned  by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and conducted by University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer confirms what we have come to realize: distracted driving is incredibly dangerous. In addition, authors of the new study include a new warning: "Just because a new technology does not take the eyes off the road does not make it safe to be used while the vehicle is in motion."

This new study measured participants' reaction time in three different experiments while doing each of the following activities:

  • "listening to the radio,
  • listening to a book on tape,
  • talking with a passenger seated next to them,
  • talking on a cell phone both holding the device and hands free,
  • using speech to text hands free,
  • performing a math and memorization task."

Cognitive reaction was measured first while not driving, then while in a simulator, and then behind the wheel. Results indicated that even with hands-free technology, drivers were far more distracted than drivers who did not use cell phones.

"There are in-vehicle activities, such as using a speech-to-text system to send text or e-mail messages, which produced a relatively high level of cognitive distraction." As more states ban holding cell phones while driving, automakers have begun including hands-free devices for communications. 

AAA believes these in-car communication devices will actually lead to more distracted driving and requests that automakers slow the development of such systems. According to AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet, "It's time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free."  Professor Strayer’s research will hopefully get the attention of automakers and  become a factor in making the voice-recognition systems safer and encourage drivers to use the devices judiciously.

As I have previously stated and continue to believe, while it may be convenient to convince yourself that multi-tasking is not so difficult, driving should never be mixed with any other activity.  Too many unpredictable things can happen when driving while distracted.  Why complicate an already-challenging task by adding an unnecessary layer of risk with ostensibly fatal consequences?

Every year I give presentations to area schools about distracted driving in an effort to teach young people the importance of driving carefully and to empower them to be sure they do not allow others to drive while distracted, at least not while they are in the car.

If you, your child's PTSA, or your child's school would like to know more about my presentation, please let me know. I of course do not charge a fee for it, as it is part of my volunteer community service program.

Do you have any questions about this post?

About the author:

Mr. Zambri is a board-certified civil trial attorney by the National Board of Trial Advocates and a Past-President of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. The association recently named him "Trial Lawyer of the Year" (2011).  He has been rated by Washingtonian magazine as a "Big Gun" and among the "top 1%" of all lawyers in the Washington metropolitan area. The magazine also describes him as "one of Washington's best--most honest and effective lawyers" who specializes in personal injury matters, including automobile accident claims, premises liability, product liability, medical malpractice, and work-accident claims. He has successfully litigated multiple cases against truck and bus companies, the Washington Metropolitan Area transit Authority, and other automobile owners.  His law firm, in fact, has obtained the largest settlement ever in a personal injury case involving WMATA.  Mr. Zambri has also been acknowledged as one of "The Best Lawyers in America" by Best Lawyers (2011 edition) and has been repeatedly named a "Super Lawyer" by Super Lawyer magazine (March/April 2010)-- national publications that honor the top lawyers in America.

If you have any questions about your legal rights, please email Mr. Zambri at szambri@reganfirm.com or call him at 202-822-1899.

 

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