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Distracted driving is a major cause of deadly car accidents in Oregon and across the United States. In 2018 alone, 2,841 people died in car accidents involving distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As a result, many states enacted laws prohibiting motorists from using hand-held cell phones while driving. 

Oregon also restricts drivers from using hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. In order to stay in compliance with the law and continue to use a cell phone, some drivers use hands-free cell phones. Yet, even these devices cause a significant amount of distraction. 

The study 

A study published by AAA, measured the amount of cognitive distraction motorists experience when using hands-free devices. Researchers asked participants to complete a series of tasks while operating a vehicle equipped with monitoring devices and a simulator vehicle. These tasks included the following: 

  • Listening to the radio 
  • Listening to a book on tape 
  • Composing an email using voice activated technology 
  • Talking with a passenger in the vehicle 
  • Talking using a hand-held cell phone 
  • Talking using a hands-free cell phone  

Researchers measured participants’ eye movement, brain activity, response time and heart rate. 

The results 

Researchers found that the difference in the amount of cognitive distraction produced by the hands-free cell phone and the hand-held device was minimal. Even though the hands-free cell phone allows the driver to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, it still causes a loss of focus and acts as a significant source of cognitive distraction. 

When the brain attempts to focus on two complex tasks simultaneously, it bounces back and forth between one task and the other. This switch leaves moments where the driver is not thinking about the road at all, increasing the risk of a car accident.