The problem with hands-free technology in South Carolina

While hands-free technology has been offered as a solution to distracted driving, researchers have found quite the opposite.

In early August, a 17-year-old was driving his vehicle through Anderson County when he crossed the center line. According to WYFF4, his vehicle struck an oncoming minivan in a head-on collision. The teenager and the driver of the minivan both died as a result of the incident. Three children in the minivan, ages 6, 7 and 14, were all taken to intensive care units and listed in critical condition.

The coroner's office is reviewing the teenage driver's cellphone to determine if distracted driving played a role in the incident. Even if the teen had been using voice-activated technology, it could have been enough to take his focus off the road and cause the deadly accident.

What is hands-free technology?

As mobile use among Americans has increased, there has been a push to raise awareness about talking or texting on the phone while driving. Hands-free technology was developed to enable users to be on the phone without having to actually hold the device. Many new vehicles now come equipped with mechanisms that allow drivers to place phone calls, send text messages and even write emails all through the use of voice commands.

A real threat

The emergence of hands-free technology has prompted researchers to take a look at its efficacy in reducing distractions and keeping motorists safe. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study that evaluated how a mental distraction affects driver performance. The organization found that hands-free technology can actually cause a driver to lose even more focus than hands-on technology would. Specifically, a poorly designed system that has substandard voice recognition resulted in a high level of cognitive distraction.

According to Consumer Reports, researchers also ranked mental distractions on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 as the lowest. They determined the following:

  • Simply listening to the radio caused a minimal risk, ranking as a 1.
  • Using either a hands-free or handheld device to talk on the phone ranked as a 2.
  • Listening and responding to email using voice activation ranked the highest as a 3.

AAA notes that in-car infotainment technology is supposed to increase five-fold by the year 2018.

South Carolina's laws

In South Carolina, it is illegal for any driver to text while behind the wheel. However, the state does not regulate the use of hands-free technology. A number of other states prohibit bus drivers and novice drivers from using hands-free devices while behind the wheel.

Regardless of what the law says, drivers who take their focus off the road pose a real threat to their own safety and put the lives of others at risk. Anyone who has been involved in a motor vehicle accident in which distracted driving was involved should consult with an attorney.