A new study by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has found that using a hands-free mobile phone system is just as distracting as using the device in your hand, when behind the wheel.
QUT's Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety (CARRS-Q) recently measured the effects of mobile phone use on driver safety including reaction time and driving performance, using its own in-house driving simulator.
"We took a group of drivers and exposed them to a virtual road network which included a pedestrian entering the driver’s peripheral vision from a footpath and walking across a pedestrian crossing," said Doctor Shimul Haque, from QUT's School of Civil Engineering and Built Environment.
"We then monitored the driver’s performance and reaction times during hands-free and hand-held phone conversations and without. The reaction time of drivers participating in either a handheld or hands-free conversation was more than 40 per cent longer than those not using a phone."
"In real terms this equates to a delayed response distance of about 11m for a vehicle travelling at 40km/h," he added.
Dr. Haque said that the cognitive load required to hold a conversation is the main cause of distraction, as opposed to whether the driver was holding a phone or not.
The study's results suggest that both hands-free and handheld phone conversations have similar effects in responding to the common peripheral event of a pedestrian entering the crossing from the footpath.
Dr. Haque suggested that legislation around mobile phone use in vehicles should be reviewed, considering most states prohibit handheld mobile phone use but allow hands-free operation.
Additionally, the study found that P-platers required double the reaction time of fully-licensed drivers when using a hands-free system.
"Distracted drivers on average reduced the speed of their vehicle faster and more abruptly than non-distracted drivers, exhibiting excess braking," said Dr. Haque.
"While the driver is likely to be compensating for the perceived risk of talking and driving, the abrupt or excessive braking by distracted drivers poses a safety concern to following vehicles."
"Again these findings highlight a need to consider mobile phone use laws in response to interventions to reduce rear-end crashes," he added.
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