A new AAA study finds that hands-free car devices to talk on the phone, send text messages and control the radio are extremely distracting and even worse than actually holding your phone while driving.
The AAA research finds drivers who use hands-free cell phones are at least two times more distracted than those who don't, and the speech-to-text in car systems that let you keep your hands on the wheel are three times more distracting.
The head of AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety says when drivers are distracted by another task, they can develop "inattention blindness." The driver can look straight ahead and still not see red lights and pedestrians.
Researchers at the University of Utah who conducted the study with AAA, fitted drivers with special skull caps to record their brainwaves, eye movement, and driving performance.
University of Utah Researcher Joel Cooper explained, "Your brain is so overloaded with these talk-to-text tasks or talking on a cell phone that you have very little residual capability to attend to the roadway."
Car companies have been marketing "hands free" systems to new car buyers for years. Younger drivers are especially attracted to the fact that they can control music, answer emails, even check their Facebook page using their voice.
But AAA says it is concerned about the safety and is now suggesting new restrictions. The company is urging the car and electronics industries to come up with technology that limits use of voice-activated technology to basic driving-related activities, such as the windshield wipers or climate control.
"This speech-to-text technology should only be used or limited to use to drivers when the vehicle is stopped," AAA spokeswoman Yolanda Cade said.
Meanwhile, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says it questions the report and is concerned that the study could "send a misleading message" that hand-held devices and hands-free devices "are equally risky."