Study: Hands-Free Calls Distract Drivers Equally

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Hands-free calls are just as distracting for drivers as regular phone calls, a recent study conducted by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) found. As Dr. Shimul Haque explained during a Driving Distraction Seminar held at QUT earlier this month, his findings suggest that there's no real difference between using hands-free solutions and actual cell phones while driving, as both activities severely inhibit one's ability to react to sudden changes of road conditions. Haque labeled the results of his study as extremely troubling seeing how hands-free calling is perfectly legal for drivers in Australia.

QUT's research was conducted using a CARRS-Q Advanced Driving Simulator, a contemporary device debuted by the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety in Queensland, Australia in mid-2016. A group of drivers were tasked with navigating simulated roads full of various dangers, including a pedestrian suddenly going over a crossing. After the drivers had completed their courses without external distractions, they were asked to do the same while having a hands-free phone call. Finally, they repeated this process while holding a regular phone conversation. Their reaction times and overall performance were monitored and recorded every step of the way. After everything had been said and done, the results showed that both hands-free and regular phone calls increased drivers' reaction times by over 40%. In real-world conditions, this would amount to a delayed response distance of around 11 meters (36 feet) for a vehicle driving at approximately 40 kph (25 mph), Dr. Haque explained.

The difference in response times of drivers having a hands-free call and those holding a regular one was negligible, researchers said. Dr. Haque explained this phenomenon by affirming that a cognitive load required to hold a conversation is always constant regardless of whether a driver is holding a phone or not. Increased brain activity focused on something other than driving reduces a person's ability to scan their surroundings while operating a vehicle, he concluded. Speaking in simpler terms, this study suggests that all phone calls are equally distracting as they inhibit a driver's ability to quickly notice road dangers and consequently react to them. Finally, distracted drivers participating in this study were also prone to overcompensating with their breaking, which poses a safety risk for vehicles behind them. While speaking at a recently held Driving Distraction Seminar, Dr. Haque said he's hoping this study will convince Australian regulators to rethink their road safety laws.

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