In some states in the nation, law enforcement officers can ticket any drivers found using their hand-held cell phones. While using a hand-held cell phone is not illegal for drivers in North Carolina, it is still extremely dangerous. In one year alone, more than 3,600 people died in distracted driving auto accidents in the U.S. In an attempt to stay safe behind the wheel, some drivers turned to hands-free cell phones. Although countless companies market these devices as safe alternatives to hand-held cell phones, the devices still pose a danger to drivers.

In a study released by AAA, researchers compared the amount of cognitive distraction caused by hand-held cell phones use to that of using a hands-free device. They did this by measuring participants’ heart rates, eye movement, blood pressure, response time and brain activity as they completed certain tasks. These tasks included the following:

  • Composing an email using voice-activated technology
  • Talking with another passenger in the vehicle
  • Listening to an audio book
  • Listening to the radio
  • Using a hands-free cellular device
  • Using a hand-held cellular device

The results showed that the difference in the amount of distraction caused by using a hands-free and hand-held cell phone was minimal. The hands-free cell phone virtually eliminated both manual and visual distractions; however, there was still a significant amount of cognitive distraction present.

Cognitive distraction occurs when the brain is not fully focused on a task, but rather engaged in two complex tasks at the same time. Rather than concentrate on the main activity, driving, the brain flip flops back and forth between the two tasks, leaving periods where the brain is not thinking of the road at all. The only safe way to drive is to avoid using any type of cellular device while behind the wheel.