Are Missouri drivers safer when using hands-free technology?

A recent study demonstrates that hands-free technology may be just as risky as using handheld devices behind the wheel.

In late June of this year, a 47-year-old man from Missouri was driving a semi truck when he struck a car head-on. According to the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, the driver of the other vehicle suffered injuries to the arm and head and was flown to a hospital following the incident. A distraction inside the vehicle was listed as the cause of the incident.

Distracted driving is a hot-button issue, with many awareness campaigns reminding drivers in Missouri and across the country to avoid cellphone use while behind the wheel. Some people believe that using hands-free technology will keep them safer, but recent studies show the behavior may be just as risky.

Defining distractions

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out that there are three types of distractions: cognitive, which takes a driver's thinking off the road; visual, which take the driver's eyes off the road; and manual, which takes a driver's hands off the wheel. Hands-free technology is touted for its ability to enable drivers to retain visual and manual focus, but it cannot eliminate cognitive distraction.

Measuring the risk of hands-free technology

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study to review just how safe using hands-free technology can be. Researchers a look at six common activities drivers participate in, which include the following:

• Talking to someone else in the car

• Using a cellphone to talk

• Using a hands-free cellphone to talk

• Listening to an audiobook

• Listening to the radio

• Using a speech-to-email system

The study concluded that even though the manual and visual distractions had been eliminated, the cognitive distraction led to impaired driving. Researchers noted that these activities lowered a driver's ability to react quickly and even led to poorer functioning in the part of the brain that is necessary to drive safely.

Further, the study found that using a hands-free phone for a conversation was almost exactly as risky as using a handheld phone. The most distracting of all the activities reviewed was the speech-to-text activity.

Missouri's distracted driving laws

According to the Missouri General Assembly, the state has few laws in place protecting people from distracted drivers. Currently, people 21 years or younger are not allowed to text while behind the wheel. There are stricter rules regarding commercial vehicle drivers, as they are not permitted to use handheld devices nor may they use wireless devices to perform tasks such as texting. The law does make an exception for emergency personnel or people who are trying to get emergency help.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out, someone who is distracted while driving is at a higher risk of causing an accident. Anyone with questions regarding this matter should consult with a personal injury attorney in Missouri.

Keywords: Missouri, distracted driving