Hands-Free Is Not Risk-Free

New technology does not eliminate driver distraction

A lot can happen in 27 seconds – including an accident caused by distracted driving.

New research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals that a driver can actually remain mentally distracted for as long as 27 seconds after dialing a phone, changing a radio station or sending a text message using voice commands. This means even with eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, mere interface with technology can take a driver’s attention away from safe driving for far too long.

Of course, few would argue against the notion that hands-free technology presents a step in the right direction, and regulations approving its use certainly reinforce this perception. Yet this research, along with personal experience, convince me that we have not completely resolved the risk technology poses to safe driving. Although you may not physically touch the radio button, you still evaluate whether you have chosen the right station. Not entering a phone number by hand does not eliminate the diversion caused as you leave a voicemail message or begin a conversation. Same with text messaging.

If you have made the switch to hands-free, it’s definitely a safer alternative. But here is the reality I want everyone to accept: It is not fool-proof. Just recognizing that there is still potential for distraction is an important safety step for every driver, not only for those in big rigs, but also in personal vehicles. Practice the same precautions you did before. Avoid using technology in particularly stressful driving conditions. Whenever possible, restrict use to times when you are not moving or during regular break intervals. If the phone rings when you know it is vital to be fully engaged, simply let the call go to voicemail and follow up later. Recognize that just one quick text reply can, and often does, lead to an extended texting session. As Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says, “The lasting effects of mental distraction pose a hidden and pervasive danger that would likely come as a surprise to most drivers.” He explains  that the simple act of readjusting to the task of driving after diverting attention to technology is enough to cause a driver to miss a stop sign, pedestrian or other vehicles.


Still not convinced? Count up to 27 seconds. In that short amount of time, had you been in a vehicle going just 25 miles per hour, you would have travelled the length of nearly three football fields. In that space, particularly when you are distracted, there is plenty of potential to be involved in an accident (and most big rigs spend significant time on the road going much faster). The lesson? Stay alert. Stay engaged. Recognize that hands-free is not risk-free.