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​​​​Hands-Free Technologies Increase Risk of Distraction

Your chances of running a stop sign, failing to notice a pedestrian in the crosswalk or another vehicle cutting in front of you are increased after you’ve made use of hands-free technologies in your car, according to research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The AAA Foundation suggests you could end up in a state of cognitive distraction after using technology in your vehicle that renders you unaware of your immediate driving surroundings, and it could last for a much longer timeframe that you might guess.

How much longer? Potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist for as long as 27 seconds after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice commands, according to AAA research.

“For a car travelling 40 miles per hour, that translates to almost six football fields or almost five city blocks,” says Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, in a blog published on Huffington Post.

“That means if you're stopped at a light and you're checking email or sending a text with voice controls, even after you've finished the task and the light turns green, that task is still travelling with you,” Hersman says. “Your head is still in the phone (or car system) and not focused on driving.”

Hersman’s blog post was published shortly after the AAA Foundation released results of the third phase of its comprehensive investigation into cognitive distraction while driving.

“Technology continues to evolve at a breakneck speed; unfortunately safety has not kept pace. In a perfect world, hands-free car systems and smartphones are easy to use, cognitively less demanding and keep driver distraction to a bare minimum,” Hersman says.

“One day we may get there, but at present, infotainment systems and smartphones are still too distracting – with distractions persisting longer than any of us realized. For now, the best advice for drivers remains the same: refrain from engaging in any task that takes your focus away from what's important – arriving at your destination safely.”

Question of Liability is One You'll Want to Address

Cell phone incidents: Employers are being held liable up to $25 million for employee crashes, even when employees are using hands-free devices.

This National Safety Council white paper shows real cases and explains why employers should care. Find out more here:

Distracted Driving Documents

Teach Your Employees This Golden Rule: Drive Now, Call Later

If hands-free cell phone use while driving is not risk free, then you’re wondering, why is it OK to carry on a conversation with a passenger?

In cases involving adult drivers, the answer is three-fold:

  • A passenger provides another set of eyes
  • A passenger is able to spot and point out driving hazards
  • A passenger is able to recognize when traffic is challenging and stop talking

The National Safety Council has reviewed more than 30 studies that show hands-free systems fail to make driving safer. Even with both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, your brain is distracted from the task of driving by conversation or infotainment. And your brain is capable of doing only so much.

At NSC, multi-tasking is described as a big, fat myth. While the brain quickly toggles between tasks, research proves it cannot do two things at the same time. The activity in the area of the brain that processes moving images decreases by up to 1/3 when listening to talking on the phone. The result: distracted driving.

In a NSC poll, 80% of respondents said they believe hands-free cell phones are safer than using handheld devices. And 53% said they believe hands-free systems must be safe if they are built into vehicles. Studies conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute debunk these beliefs, three conclusions serving to drive home the point:

About 100 people die in car crashes every day, making motor vehicle incidents the #1 cause of unintentional deaths in the United Sates. About 26% percent of all car crashes involve cell phone use. At any moment, 9% of drivers are talking on cell phones.

In 2014, there were 100,825 traffic crashes in Texas that involved distracted driving (distraction, driver inattention or cell phone use), according to the Texas Department of Transportation. That represented a 6% increase from 2013.

TxDOT reported that there were 3,214 serious injuries from distracted driving incidents in 2014 and 468 deaths. Nearly one in five crashes in Texas involved driver distraction.

Why Employers Will Want to Apply Brakes on Distracted Driving

Scary numbers, crazy amounts of money: 468 deaths, $21 million.

How serious is the issue of distracted driving in the state of Texas? In 2014, there were 100,825 traffic crashes statewide that involved distracted driving (distraction, driver inattention or cell-phone use), according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Those crashes resulted in 468 deaths and 3,214 serious injuries.

Nearly as alarming, the number of distracted driving crashes jumped 6% from 2013. What can you – the employer – do to protect your company’s bottom line and liability? To prevent a catastrophic loss?

Many are aware a Corpus Christi, Texas jury awarded $21 million to a woman injured when her car was broadsided by a station wagon driven by a Coca-Cola marketing employee talking on her cell phone in 2012, that figure reported in an article posted on Some employers have acted to prohibit cell-phone use while driving and recognized hands-free devices are just as dangerous.

What else is being done to combat the problem?

Well, campaigns aimed at curbing driver cell-phone use and stopping distracted driving are gaining momentum across the country. Likewise, TxDOT is highlighting the dangers associated with texting and driving through its “Talk. Text. Crash-Distracted Driving” program.

Perhaps you’ve seen these TxDOT signs posted on message boards along the highways:  “Drive Now. Talk or Text Later.” And, “You Talk. You Text. You Crash.” Or maybe you’ve seen TxDOT public service announcements, window clings and logos, all created with one idea in mind, to encourage people to join in the effort to stop distracted driving.

Arm Yourself with Tools, Resources, Information

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety. These types of distractions include:

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player

But, because text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.

Distracted driving is becoming increasingly common and dangerous, causing traffic crashes and fatalities. In 2014, there were 100,825 traffic crashes in Texas that involved distracted driving (distraction, driver inattention or cell phone use). That is an increase of 6% from 2013. These crashes in 2014 resulted in 3,214 serious injuries and 468 deaths. In fact, nearly one in five crashes in Texas involves driver distraction.

Cell Phones are the No. 1 Driver Distraction

Talking on a cell phone while driving makes you almost four times more likely to crash, and texting while driving increases your chances of a crash by up to 8 to 23 times.

In addition to taking their eyes and hands off the wheel, distracted drivers take their mind off the primary task of driving. Drivers talking on cell phones miss half of the information in their driving environment.

Drivers using cell phones are less likely to see:

  • High and low relevant objects
  • Visual cues
  • Exits, red lights and stop signs

Employer Costs

Motor-vehicle crash injuries on and off the job cost employers almost $60 billion annually in 1998-2000, according to the Transportation Research Board. One-third of this cost resulted from off-the-job injuries to workers and their dependents. In recent years, numerous plaintiffs have filed and won multimillion-dollar actions against employers for injuries arising from negligent driving of an employee who was distracted by the use of a cell phone.

What Employers Can Do

Driver distractions cost the U.S. economy $3.58 billion each month, according to a Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study. In an effort to protect employees and their finances, many employers are implementing corporate cell phone bans, which protect employees both on and off the job. Having a distracted driving policy in place doesn't just make good safety sense, it makes good business $ense.

A corporate cell phone ban might ask employees to:

  • Turn off wireless phones or other devices before starting the car
  • Inform clients, associates and business partners that calls will be returned when no longer driving
  • Pull over to a safe location and put the vehicle in park if a call must be made

Your staff will have many questions about a cell phone ban and the risks of distracted driving, so prepare yourself to answer them.
  • Introduce your cell phone policy and emphasize how it will ensure a safe workplace. Distribute the policy and give employees time to read and react to it
  • You should promote distraction-free driving all year, while building on safety events like April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month
  • Use Posters, Web Banners and Fact Sheets from NSC




A project of the National Safety Council in cooperation with the Texas Department of Transportation.


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