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Is hands-free any safer?

You’ve seen them driving through Chambersburg, on side streets and on I-81 heading towards Harrisburg. You may notice them when you are sitting at a stop light. The light changes and you wait. And wait. And finally, the head looks up and the car lurches forwards.

Maybe on the interstate, you notice a car drifting ever so slightly across the lanes, only to move back to one lane or the other. The car behaves as if the driver was not really paying attention to their driving. 

Because, of course, that’s exactly what is happening.

Technology, which got us into this mess, provides a hope of getting us out of this mess with the threat posed by ever more distracted drivers. One such technological solution is hands-free, voice operated phones.

While texting is prohibited in the majority of states, including Pennsylvania, most allow hands-free phone usage. Sadly, most research up to now has not shown definitively that this actually reduces distraction or improves driver safety.

A recent study suggests that not all voice operated phone systems are the same. In a test of two competing systems, one system had a 50 percent failure rate, between system and user errors. This could prove so frustrating to use that that frustration could lead a driver into greater distraction than if they had just picked up the phone and dialed it manually.

Another system performed much better with only 13 failures out of 120 attempts. This system is much more likely to prevent operation distraction from leading to a car or truck accident, but the study did not look at the cognitive distraction caused by hold the conversation.

Earlier studies have found that cognitive distraction may be the most dangerous element of cellphone use in a vehicle, and merits a rigorous study to determine if even the best voice technology still leads to more accidents.

Detroitnews.com, “Study: Voice systems eliminate some driver distractions,” David Shepardson, March 3, 2015 

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