Chart of the Day: Distraction Rates for Hands-Free Tech

We now live in the age of automobile gadgetry, with new cars just brimming with tech. Also, more and more people use their smart phones while driving, which is very dangerous. Studies have even shown that just talking on the phone while driving is very dangerous, even if it is “hands-free”.

Here’s a recent chart showing different rates of “distraction” from using different hands-free cell phone or in-car technology from the American Automobile Association (AAA), via Minnpost:

mental distraction technology chart

The point of the article:

“The massive increase in voice-activated technologies in cars and phones represents a growing safety problem for drivers,” said Marshall Downy, the president and CEO of AAA, in the released statement.

“Given that the impairing effects of distraction may last much longer than people realize, AAA advises consumers to use caution when interacting with these technologies while behind the wheel,” he added.

In conclusion, here’s a 5:00 Chevy commercial involving cell phones, a wood chipper, and in-car wi-fi that “connects up to seven devices.”

9 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Distraction Rates for Hands-Free Tech

  1. UrbanDoofus

    Are municipalities allowed to ban certain types of activities while driving such as talking on the phone, or must that be done at the state level? I recognize state level laws banning cell phone talking are a non starter.

  2. BB

    This is like rewarding a bad child.

    Oh so your distracted. Here let me give you more distraction.

    Its bad enough they absolve motorists. But now they are enabling them by having no regulations.

    1. Jeff

      How long until we see efforts by lobbyists on behalf of auto-makers seeking more lenient treatment of offenses committed by motorists while using hands-free tech?

  3. Wayne

    I had a great opportunity to observe drivers in their natural habitat this morning because my bus was 20 minutes late so I had plenty of time to stare enviously (but not really) at people in their cars as they pulled up to the light and made generally unsafe right-on-red turns.

    Seriously, and I’m not exaggerating, about 80% of them had their phone in hand. Maybe about 40% were actively looking at it, but the fact that the rest had it so handy meant they were almost undoubtedly looking at it at some point while driving. Also most of them either didn’t actually stop before their right on red or rolled completely into the crosswalk before stopping for a few seconds.

    Quite literally the only people I saw who didn’t have phones in hand were people with a passenger … although even a few of them had phones out–one was showing something to the passenger while turning right on red and not really looking.

    So yeah, if you’re not encased in a steel cage be extra careful out there because we’ve created a nighmare society of selfish jerks who think checking their facebook or sports scores or whatever while operating a motor vehicle is totally worth more than your life with essentially zero consequences or enforcement to deter it.

  4. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    I don’t know that hands-free is any safer than holding the phone. We need to be careful about focusing too much on cell phones. We had gobs of distracted driving before cell phones.

    Has there been a measurable or correlated increase in crashes and fatalities since cell phones came on the scene?

    1. GlowBoy

      “Has there been a measurable or correlated increase in crashes and fatalities since cell phones came on the scene?”

      Actually, serious injuries and fatalities of people in motor vehicles has been on a long, steady decline. That’s partly because of a dramatic reduction in drunk driving, and partly because of improved safety systems in vehicles: multiple and better airbags, better vehicle crashworthiness, active safety systems like stability control, better tires, and so on. Compared to newer vehicles, a 20-30 year old car is really kind of a dangerous place to be these days. Casualties continue to decline despite increasing vehicle speeds and mileage traveled. And increased distraction.

      That’s a good thing, but also a bad thing. Increased safety of *vehicles* appears to be masking an increase in dangerous driving behavior.

      If we drove the way we drove 20-30 years ago, but in today’s cars (and at today’s rates of alcoholic impairment), road casualties should probably be a quarter to a third what they used to be, and that’s clearly not the case. I learned to drive in the 80s: we KNEW it was dangerous, and we were more careful than people are today. Now we expect our car to protect us, and to walk away from a crash that happens at boulevard speeds, an impact that often used to be fatal.

      The problem with measuring the impact of casualties due to cellphones is we don’t have good data. It’s very hard to measure distraction, even though (1) most of us intuitively know it’s radically higher than it used to be (you see people messing with their touchscreens all the time, and numerous studies have shown it to be as hazardous as driving drunk), and (2) many experts say it’s probably now responsible for over a third of crashes – on par with drunk driving.

      The data we do have seem to show that vulnerable users – pedestrians and cyclists – are NOT seeing the same reductions in fatalities and injuries as vehicle occupants. In fact, it appears the numbers may actually be trending up, though it takes a few years for the trend to really become clear statistically.

  5. GlowBoy

    I don’t think hands-free is necessarily safer, in terms of mental distraction. No question that having a conversation with someone not present in the vehicle is inherently distracting and dangerous, and the presence of an object in your hand (when 98% of cars now have automatic transmissions) has nothing to do with it. For that reason I opposed the handsfree ban in Oregon when it passed a few years ago.

    But now that I’ve moved to MN, I’ve changed my mind about the law. Yes, you still see a lot of distracted driving in Oregon, occasionally people texting and the ban isn’t anywhere near as heavily enforced as you’d like. But the difference on the roads is night and day: here in Minnesota you see people openly fiddling with their phones a LOT more. In Oregon and Washington drivers are much more furtive and circumspect about it, which also means they do it less. Part of the reason, I think, is that in MN, if an officer thinks you’re texting they have actually see you doing fiddling with the screen while you’re driving. In OR/WA they can nail you for simply having the phone in your hand.

    The problem in both states, of course, is that law enforcement tends to focus on people texting or otherwise using their phones’ touchscreens while stopped at red lights, because they’re much easier to catch. Yes, yes I know it’s still illegal, but it’s multiple orders of magnitude less dangerous than doing the same thing while the vehicle is moving, and nailing people at read lights is really, really missing the point of these laws.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      The mental distraction may be the same, but having something in your hand is also a physical distraction/impairment.

      I think it’s crazy to oppose hand free laws on the basis they may not go far enough. You just can’t drive as well while holding something up to your face with one hand.

      But I have a similar feeling as you. In DC, where hand free has been in place for a long time, it felt like there were less distraction among drivers.

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