Monday, July 13, 2020
US flag

Hands-free better than handheld for drivers

New research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute suggests that drivers who use hands-free electronic devices, as opposed to handheld ones, are less likely to get into a crash. Research is published in the journal Safety Science.

With hands-free technology, drivers can make calls and perform a variety of other tasks while still keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

“Any activity that places either visual or manual demands on the driver—texting, browsing or dialing a handheld phone, for instance—substantially increases crash risk. However, our recent study has found that the primarily cognitive secondary task of talking on a hands-free device does not appear to have any detrimental effects,” said Tom Dingus, director of VTTI and the principal investigator of the study.

The goal of the project was to determine the extent to which crash risk could be affected by primarily mental behaviors, known as cognitive distractions. Cognitive distractions occupy the mind but do not require the driver to look away from the road or remove his or her hands from the wheel. Examples include interacting with a passenger, singing in the car, talking on a hands-free cell phone, and dialing on a hands-free phone via voice-activated software.

Using video and other sensor data from the Second Strategic Highway Research Program naturalistic driving study, the largest light-vehicle study of its kind ever conducted, Dingus and the research team analyzed video footage of 3,454 drivers, 905 crashes (including 275 more serious crashes), and 19,732 control periods of “normal driving” for instances of cognitive distraction. For comparison, they also studied examples of drivers performing visual and manual activities, such as texting on a handheld phone or adjusting the radio.

Drivers who used a handheld phone increased their crash risk by 2 to 3.5 times compared to model drivers, defined as being alert, attentive, and sober. When a combination of cognitive secondary tasks was observed, the crash risk also went up, although not to nearly the same degree. In some cases, hands-free cell phone use was associated with a lower crash rate than the control group. None of the 275 more serious property damage and injury crashes analyzed were associated with the use of hands-free systems.

“There are a number of reasons why using a hands-free device could keep drivers more engaged and focused in certain situations,” said Dingus. “One is that the driver looks forward more during the conversation. Although engaging in the conversation could cause a small amount of delay in cognitive processing, the driver is still more likely be looking in the direction of a precipitating event, such as another car stopping or darting in front suddenly. The phone conversation could also serve as a countermeasure to fatigue on longer road trips. Perhaps most importantly, a driver who is talking on a hands-free phone is less likely to engage in manual texting, browsing, dialing, and other much higher-risk behaviors.”

On February 5, state lawmakers passed legislation that aims to make holding a cell phone while driving illegal. [Editor’s Note: Driving laws in many states are being created to make it illegal to text while driving. Motor vehicle accidents are one of the greatest causes of death for high school students, and this research continues to add to a growing body of evidence that it is safer not to use a handheld cellphone in any way while driving.]

“VTTI’s research has shown consistently that activities requiring a driver to take his or her eyes off of the forward roadway, such as texting or dialing on a handheld phone, pose the greatest risk. It is also important to note that in many newer cars, the driver can do some tasks hands-free using well-designed interfaces. Giving the driver an option to use a safer system will help with compliance for a new law and lead to fewer distraction-related crashes,” said Dingus.

Eight-hundred and forty-three people died on Virginia roads in 2017, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Of these, 208 fatalities and 14,656 injuries were attributed to distracted driving, an 18.2 percent increase from 2016. Texting/cell phone use was cited as one of the top three causes.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Voxitatis congratulates the COVID Class of 2020

2020 is unique and, for high school graduates, different from anything they've seen. Proms, spring sports, & many graduation ceremonies are cancelled. Time for something new.

Vertical addition (m3.nbt.2) math practice

3rd grade, numbers and operations in base 10, 2, 3-digit vertical addition practice problem

Rubber ducks (m3.oa.1) math practice

3rd grade, operational and algebraic thinking, 1, rubber ducky modeling practice problem

Distance learning begins as Covid-19 thrives

What we learn during & from coronavirus, a challenging & imminent crisis, will provide insights into so many aspects of our lives.

Calif. h.s. choir sings with social distancing

Performances with the assistance of technology can spread inspiration across the globe even as the coronavirus spreads illness and disease.

Families plan to stay healthy during closures

Although schools are doing what they can to keep students learning and healthy during the coronavirus outbreak, that duty now shifts to parents.

Illinois temporarily closes all schools

IL schools will be closed on Tuesday, March 17, through at least March 30. Schools in 18 states are now closed due to coronavirus.

Coronavirus closures & cancellations

Many schools are closed and sports tournaments cancelled across America during what the president called a national emergency: coronavirus.

Coronavirus closes schools in Seattle

The coronavirus pandemic has caused colleges to cancel classes, and now Seattle Public Schools became the nation's first large district to cancel classes due to the virus.

Most detailed images ever of the sun

A new telescope at the National Solar Observatory snapped the most detailed pictures of the sun's surface we have ever seen.

Feds boost Bay funding

Restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed received a boost in federal funding in the budget Congress passed last month.