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At any given time there are thousands of cars traveling on the roads of Franklin County and many of those drivers often engage in other behaviors while behind the wheel. However, when drivers are negligent they can create risks for others on the road around them, raising the chances of a car accident occurring.

In 2011, the Ohio Department of Public Safety reported over 292,000 accidents in the state. More than 72,000 of those crashes resulted in injury and 941 were fatal. While the department measures several factors that contributed to an accident, distraction was not one of them.

Distraction a growing problem

The increasing use of phones and other hand-held devices has made the issue of distracted driving a real concern for government agencies and organizations. The Governors Highway Safety Association points out that 15 to 25 percent of all crashes are caused by distraction. Of real concern has been the use of cell phones and texting , but there are other distractions as well.

For example, drivers can become distracted from conversations with other passengers, using navigational devices, watching something happening on the road or even playing with a radio. It is likely that many people have had the experience of missing an exit because they were not paying attention to the road like they should have.

Measuring cognitive distraction

Several studies have been conducted on distracted driving but according to the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, the effects of cognitive distraction have not fully been studied. As a result, the organization conducted a survey recently that measured different levels of cognitive distraction by having participants engage in different activities while driving.

In order to create a rating scale, researchers first measured people’s brain activity when they were focused solely on the task of driving. Then participants were asked to use different tasks in different experiments. The tasks involved:

  • Using a speech-to-text email system
  • Talking on a hands-free phone
  • Talking on a hand-held phone
  • Talking with a passenger in the car
  • Listening to a book on audio
  • Listening to the radio

The experiments were held in a laboratory setting, a driving simulator and in an instrumented vehicle. Participants were allowed time to become familiar with the instrumented vehicle before driving it in the experiment itself to make sure that the measurement of cognitive distraction was accurate.

Hands-free devices are not free of risks

The study results revealed that cognitive distraction even occurs with devices that do not require the driver to look at them or touch them. When a driver’s mind is occupied on using a hands-free phone or a speech-to-text system, they are not able to concentrate fully on the road around them, missing clues that would alert them to a potential danger and slowing down their ability to hit the brakes if a situation occurs, such as another car in front of them suddenly stopping or slowing.

The study disproves the belief that hands-free is safer but it is uncertain whether auto manufacturers and the electronics industry will actually listen. New cars now often come equipped with technology that allows drivers to make calls and send messages by using just their voice. USA Today reported that the Consumer Electronics Association claims the study is flawed and unrealistic.

If you are injured in an accident because of the actions of a distracted or negligent driver you should talk to an experienced attorney about your options.