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If you think your employees who drive while on the job are completely safe using hands-free mobile phone technology while driving your car, a new study says otherwise.

Mental distractions can persist for nearly 30 seconds after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice commands, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The researchers discovered the residual effects of mental distraction while comparing new hands-free technologies in 10 vehicles and three types of smart phones (Google Now, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana). The analysis found that all systems studied increased mental distraction to potentially unsafe levels.

Researchers found that potentially unsafe levels of mental distraction can last for as long as 27 seconds after completing a distracting task in the worst-performing systems studied. That amount of time is the equivalent of driving three footballs fields at 25 miles per hour. The faster a vehicle is traveling, the further it would go during this time.

When using the least-distracting systems, drivers remained impaired for more than 15 seconds after completing a task.

The dangers are obvious: Drivers using phones and vehicle information systems while driving may miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while their minds are readjusting to the task of driving.

The research indicates that the use of voice-activated systems can be a distraction even at seemingly safe moments when there is a lull in traffic or the car is stopped at an intersection. Mental distractions persist and can affect driver attention even after the light turns green.

Researchers rated the distraction level of the cars and smart phone technologies on a scale of 1-5, with anything above 2 deemed distracting enough to be a danger.

The best-performing system was the Chevy Equinox with a cognitive distraction rating of 2.4, while the worst-performing system was the Mazda 6 with a cognitive distraction rating of 4.6.

Among phone systems, Google Now performed best as the least distracting with a distraction rating of 3, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana earned ratings of 3.4 and 3.8.

Using the phones to send texts significantly increased the level of mental distraction. While sending voice-activated texts, Google Now rated as a category 3.3 distraction, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana rated as category 3.7 and category 4.1 distractions.

AAA Foundation researchers liken the categories as follows:

  • Category 1 – About as distracting as listening to the radio or an audio book.
  • Category 2 – About as distracting as talking on the phone.
  • Category 3 – About as distracting as sending voice-activated texts on a perfect, error-free system.
  • Category 4 – About as distracting updating social media while driving.
  • Category 5 – About as distracting as a highly challenging, scientific test designed to overload a driver’s attention.

 

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