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Are Hands-Free Devices Really Safer?

Back in 2013, the laws in New York changed dramatically to attempt to curb one of the fastest-growing threats to drivers: accidents caused by cell phone use. On July 26, 2013, using a cell phone in any capacity while driving became a moving violation, resulting in a minimum fine of $50 plus surcharges and NYS driver points. The law was aimed at tackling one of the largest causes of distracted driving, and statistics in numerous studies demonstrated that drivers who had a phone to their ear were far more likely to be involved in an accident. The risk increased even further still for those who were sending or reading text messages, checking email, using the internet, or even playing a game while driving.

However, legislators recognized that for some people a total ban on cell phone use behind the wheel may be impractical and would cause them to ignore the law and risk the fine anyway. Therefore, they left an exemption to the rule: motorists would be allowed to continue to have their conversations so long as they used some form of a hands-free device.

However, a recent study from the University of Sussex in England suggests that these devices may not actually make talking on the phone and driving any safer. The study found that phone conversations frequently require drivers to engage in using “visual imagery,” or using brain power to envision things in order to carry out the conversation. According to the study, a driver tasked with mentally picturing some aspect of a conversation was less able to detect potential hazards on the roads because their brain was forced to “share resources.”

Distractions from Cell Phone Use

This is an excellent example of one of the three major types of driving distraction, known as “cognitive distraction.” Cognitive distractions are tasks or things that take your mind and focus away from what you’re currently doing (driving) and have it focus on something else. Researchers found that phone conversations tend to make drivers do this far more frequently. However, conversations with other passengers also had a similar, if slightly-less pronounced impact.

Cell phone use with a hands-free device can also lead to a second type of distracted driving, especially in modern vehicles with added “convenience” technology: visual distraction. Visual distractions are things that can cause you to take your eyes off the road in front of you. Many new cars these days include a full-function center console screen which can do everything from display the name of who is calling you to the title of the song playing and even read or display text messages for you. While this prevents you from having to pick up your phone, the effect they have is still the same: you take your eyes off the road, even for just a second or so, which can dramatically increase your chances of an accident.

Have you been injured in a car accident and suspect a distracted driver may have been at fault? Lurie, Ilchert, MacDonnell & Ryan LLP can help! Our New York City car accident attorneys have the skill and experience you need on your side to pursue the best possible outcome when you have been injured by the actions of another. We are proud of our record of substantial success, including 150 trials with verdicts or settlements in excess of $1 million.

If you’re ready to pursue the best possible outcome to your case, call Lurie, Ilchert, MacDonnell & Ryan LLP today at 646.461.4009 to request a free consultation!
Categories: Car Accidents