It is no surprise that using your cellphone while driving increases your chances of getting into a catastrophic accident. Distracted driving car accidents kill at least 3,166 drivers and injure even more every year, according to distraction.gov. Yet, thousands of American drivers continue to use their cellphones while driving. Approximately 600,000 U.S. motorists use their cellphones at any given daylight moment.

In New York, it is illegal to use a hand-held cell phone to talk, text, compose emails or take selfies while driving. Law enforcement officers may pull over and ticket anyone found doing so. Instead of taking a risk, some people use hands-free cell phones as a way to comply with the law. Studies show, however, that even hands-free cell phones can be dangerous.

Study: Hands-free vs. handheld cell phones

A study published by AAA looked at cognitive distraction and how it affects drivers. Researchers asked drivers to perform several tasks while operating a simulator vehicle and an actual vehicle equipped with monitoring devices. These tasks include the following:

  • Listening to the radio and an audiobook
  • Talking using a handheld and a hands-free cellphone
  • Talking to a passenger in the vehicle
  • Create an email using voice-activated technology

Researchers measured the amount of cognitive distraction by monitoring participants’ heart rate, brain activity, response time and eye movement. They found that hands-free cellphones are only slightly less distracting than hand-held cell phones and that hand-free cellphones act as a significant cognitive distraction to drivers.

What is cognitive distraction?

Cognitive distraction occurs when a driver is concentrating on something other than the road. When the brain attempts to focus on two complex tasks simultaneously, it switches back and forth between one task and the other. When this occurs, there are moments when the driver is not focused on driving at all. This leaves motorists unable to respond to other drivers, traffic signals, pedestrian crosswalks, bad weather conditions and other hazards in the road.

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