Ugh, Now Even Hands-Free Calling And Texting Are Bad?

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

If you think you’re being safe by using hands-free calling or texting while you’re driving, AAA says you should think again.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study to determine what affect the mental distraction of talking or texting hands-free has on a driver’s ability to, well, drive. The results weren’t good for those of us who like to stay connected behind the wheel.

The study found slowed reaction times and compromised brain function in addition to noting that drivers scanned the road less which resulted in missed visual cues. They say it’s the kind of thing that can make you look right at a stop sign, not really register that it’s there, then drive right on through and cause an accident.

Usually the focus is on the affects of visual and manual distraction, things like physically texting on your phone or messing with your infotainment screen. This study looked instead at the cognitive distractions that happen during hands-free calling or texting.

They took 150 drivers and analyzed each in 8 different distracted driving scenarios. Brainwaves were measured and eye movements monitored as drivers listened to audio books, talked on the phone and answered emails hands-free. The results show that the greater the mental workload, the worse the distraction.

Now the foundation is calling on auto manufacturers and the government for change. They want manufacturers to conduct more studies about what all the tech in our car does to our ability to drive and they want the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to add guidelines for mental distractions.

I’m going to get on my soapbox for just a second and say this bugs me more than a little. Driving distracted is never a good thing, but just how much control should someone other than the driver have over what happens behind the wheel?

We can’t physically talk or text in many states, and the need to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road makes this easy to understand, but mental distraction? How do you monitor that? Is my radio too loud? Are my kids too rowdy? What if the baby starts screaming?

Then there’s the noise from highway construction for miles at a time, or the sound and feel of the wind when the sunroof is open or, worse yet, when the convertible top is down. Should those things be regulated?

I’m all for safety, but I’m also all for personal responsibility. I still think a responsible driver who knows their limits and knows when to focus more on the road and less on a phone call is far better than one regulated into some theoretical state of focus.

Nicole Wakelin fell in love with cars as a teenager when she got to go for a ride in a Ferrari. It was red and it was fast and that was all that mattered. Game over. She considers things a bit more carefully now, but still has a weakness for fast, beautiful cars. Nicole also writes for NerdApproved and GeekMom.