Hands-free calls are just as distracting for drivers, says study

Using a hands-free system to take a call while driving is completely legal, as opposed to actually picking up the phone and holding it to your ear. Therefore, hands-free calls should be safer, right? According to Queensland University of Technology (QUT), not really.

The study, performed by Dr. Shimul Haque of QUT, measured the reaction time of drivers that used the phone hands-free, drivers that actually held their device and ones that didn't use a phone at all during driving. The tests were done in a simulator, presenting the same situation to all drivers.

It turns out that both the people that used their phones hands-free, and the ones that held it up to their ear, have the same decrease in reaction time – approximately 40% slower than the drivers without a phone. “In real terms this equates to a delayed response distance of about 11 meters for a vehicle travelling at 40 km/h,” said Haque.

Additionally, distracted drivers appear to be more prone to brake excessively, creating a safety concern for the cars that follow them.

According to Dr. Haque, it's the cognitive load required to hold a conversation that's the real distraction, and not whether the driver is holding the phone or not. “In other words the human brain compensates for receiving increased information from a mobile phone by not sending some visual information to the working memory,” explained the scientist. This results in drivers that look at objects, without actually "seeing" them.

He also noted that in-car conversations are not as distracting for drivers, due to passengers being able to “alter their dialogue based on the driving environment”. For example, a passenger could stop talking when they see that the driver is approaching a complex situation.

source: QUT via SlashGear




Posts: 1461; Member since: Mar 09, 2010

Depending on the driver.... Been using a hands free phone since 1989. A bumble head is a bumble head all of the time. I am always focused on driving..... Regardless of being hands free, some one in the car or not. Fwiw coffee, a radio, people, accidents, and free air distracts most Sunday drivers these days. Just a doctor trying to make a name for him self with probably a skewed busted study.

3. snatchlax17

Posts: 52; Member since: Dec 07, 2010

He's not too far off. Engaging in a conversation causes the driver to divert focus to other things. Whether it be with a phone, or even someone in the vehicle with you (you've seen them drive like ass hats I'm sure). He's got a lot of articles about distracted driving, but I couldn't find the specific one about this that would go through the data. That being said I don't know how thorough his research was in this instance such as the sample set. Regardless taking on what you said it seems like 95% of drivers are distracted nowadays. The phone seems to always be the culprit.

11. Siddfrak

Posts: 11; Member since: Dec 14, 2014

please watch Dr strange! talking while driving can be distracting. that being said you are quite right about "Just a doctor trying to make a name for him self with probably a skewed busted study."

12. gg555

Posts: 17; Member since: Aug 15, 2014

It's the people who think they aren't affected by these things, who are usually the worst drivers of all. They have no self-awareness, making them all the more inattentive and easily distracted. Indeed, studies have been done that show that people who think they are good at multi-tasking are in fact just as bad as everyone else. There's no difference. We all have the same neurobiology. We all get distracted in the same way. Google for the NPR story, "Think You're Multitasking? Think Again." The way the brain works, we don't multi-task at all. The brain only focuses on one thing at a time. When you think you're multi-tasking, really the brain is just rapidly shifting it's focus from one thing to the other. This is why your performance at both tasks degrades. Because your brain is in fact less focused on both. Even if we grant (the albeit delusion) that some people are better at multi-tasking than others, it is still axiomatic that that person in question is performing worse (indeed much worse) at whatever they are doing than if they just focused on one task, i.e. driving. So no matter how good you think you are, your driving is degraded when you are on the phone, hands free or not, thinking otherwise is just a delusion.

2. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

This is old news. In psychology they learn this. It's not holding the phone, it's the person on the other end not being able to see the situation in traffic. Sitting in the car they can pause the talk during difficult situations.

4. joevsyou

Posts: 1093; Member since: Feb 28, 2015

everything is a distraction

5. xondk

Posts: 1904; Member since: Mar 25, 2014

I would say to many it probably is, because even a normal conversation in a car can be a distraction to the driver, it all depends on the driver, at worst a proper driver with focus on driving, would be just as distracted as with talking with someone in the car?

6. Soundjudgment

Posts: 370; Member since: Oct 10, 2016

Next they will be holding a 'study' to prove listening to music on 8-Track tapes distracts the driver in a moving vehicle!! Oh... wait....

7. tsp38

Posts: 38; Member since: Jun 04, 2015

how can you say conversations from hands-free calls are distracting to drivers, but conversations inside the cars are not? how can you scientifically deduce that other passengers are paying attention to the road? that sounds like a lot of assumption. if they did some kind of blind study between people driving while on hands-free calls & while conversing with passengers and gave me some numbers, I'll go with it. and EVEN THEN, it's hard to tell because those passengers might be paying attention more readily when they're being observed. ANYTHING you do besides driving in a car is a distraction, even listening to music. this is stuipid.

8. threed61

Posts: 259; Member since: May 27, 2011

This report brought to you by the insurance industry, always looking for another way to jack up your rates.

9. Subie

Posts: 2445; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

This has been common knowledge for a while now. The bigger problem is texting, or looking down at your phone while driving.

10. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

Seriously, what isn't a distraction? Road signs, store signs, the weather, other vehicles, what's playing on the radio, passengers in the car with you, animals on or near the roadway, etc, etc. This is no worse than calling with your passenger in the car, but at least here you won't be making eye contact with them.

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