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Are 'Hands-Free' Devices Really Safer?

It’s no secret that using a cell phone while driving has quickly become one of the single largest causes of car accidents. To combat this worrisome trend, numerous states have passed laws requiring all drivers to use a ‘hands-free’ device while behind the wheel. While Georgia isn’t one of them, many experts have strongly encouraged drivers to use one of these devices as well in order to keep their hands on the wheel rather than their phone.

But are these devices actually any safer, like these agencies and laws say they are? Turns out, according to a new study conducted by the University of Sussex in England, they might not be. In fact, any conversation while driving can be dangerous if the driver uses ‘mental imagery’ the findings stated.

The study used two experiments to test a driver’s ability to spot hazards while their minds were preoccupied with a different task. In the first experiment, drivers were divided into three groups with one group asked to complete a simulated driving course. The first group completed the course as normal, the second group was asked true or false questions that required mental imagery to determine the answer, and the third was asked questions that did not require imagery. In the second experiment, drivers were asked to navigate the course with the second group also being tasked with utilizing metal imagery simultaneously.

The results for both groups were the same: drivers who were involved in any conversation detected fewer hazards than those who were not, with drivers being forced to picture something in their mind detecting the fewest hazards.

Graham Hole, a psychology lecturer at the university, conducted the study and stated “Conversations are more visual than we might expect, leading drivers to ignore parts of the outside world in favor of their inner 'visual world.” He also added that a driver tasked with both producing a mental image and avoiding outside obstacles tended to have their brain “compete for processing resources” in order to accomplish the task. This made them not particularly good at completing either task, and actually caused the drivers to focus on a much smaller are of the road ahead.

When it comes to cell phones, this means that drivers are often involved in conversation with those they are connected to, who may inadvertently be pulling their attention away as part of the conversation. As a result, drivers on the phone tend to notice less. Meanwhile, a conversation with a passenger tends to be safer because passengers also tend to interrupt the conversation if a driver fails to notice a road hazard, meaning they’re likely to speak up and point out the hazard if they notice it’s not being avoided.

While this is isn’t conclusive evidence that hands-free devices are no safer than holding a phone to your ear, the evidence certainly suggests exactly what Mr. Hole said in his conclusions: “The only ‘safe’ phone in a car is one that’s switched off.”

If you have been injured in an accident by a distracted driver, such as one involved in a phone conversation, the Atlanta car accident lawyers at Pratt Clay, LLC can help! We are not afraid to stand up to insurance companies and those who would prioritize their own profit margins over your well-being, and we are dedicated to helping you get the outcome your case deserves. With over $70 million in compensation recovered and having litigated in more than 25 states, our team has the experience and trial-tested skill you need on your side to fight for you while you focus on your recovery.

If you have been hurt, in a car accident, call Pratt Clay, LLC today at (404) 998-5258 to request a free case review.