Driving Study: Hands-free doesn't mean risk-free

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - You may think all the new hands-free technology would put an end to distracted driving. Well, think again.

A new study by Triple A finds that even with the new technology, drivers remain at significant risk when talking, texting and using hands free devices.
We've all seen the warnings about using your hands to talk and text while driving, and we've seen the push by car manufacturers and smartphone makers towards presumably safer hands-free technology.

but hands-free may not be as safe as you think.

"Even though you've heard these systems are safer, really they're not. And your focus when you're driving needs to be on the road and on the task at hand, which is driving," said Beth Mosher of AAA Chicago.

A study by Triple A and the University of Utah tested drivers in a controlled environment using hands-free command technology. The study found that even though the drivers were not using their hands, they continued to experience a significant level of distraction, often when cycling through display menus or correcting words that didn't voice translate properly while texting.

And the study also found that it doesn't end when you've finished the task at hand.

"The cognitive distraction can last for up to 27 seconds after you've sent that text," Mosher said.

Drivers that FOX 32 talked to say they agree hands-free is better, but far from perfect.

"Definitely a little easier than looking down at your phone but you still have to look to your screen," one woman said.

"Realistically here folks pay so much attention on the conversation you're having it doesn't really matter whether you're hands free or not. People are still gonna do just whatever they want," a man said.

The study also found the level of hands-free distraction varied depending on the model of the car. The Mazda 6 scored worse, ranking as "very high distraction," while the Chevy Equinox rated as only "mildly distracting."

What made the cars better?

"We found that they had either a more sophisticated translation system. Maybe they had to go through less menus to get to the operation the driver wanted to do," Mosher said.

A spokesperson for Mazda said the company has already improved its hands-free system for its 2016 models. Triple A says it's sharing its finding with the car and cellphone industries, hoping it will persuade them to make a safer product.