While they may be convenient to use, new hands-free technologies may not necessarily be reducing driver distractions.

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A recent study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has raised new, serious and unexpected concerns about drivers who talk, text and dial while behind the wheel, even if they’re using a hands-free device. In fact, the research revealed that potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist for as long as 27 seconds after changing music, dialing or sending a text using voice commands.

“Drivers should use caution while using voice-activated systems, even at seemingly safe moments when there is a lull in traffic or the car is stopped at an intersection. The reality is that mental distractions persist and can affect driver attention even after the light turns green,” said Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs and government relations director for AAA Northeast in New Jersey.

The study found that after completing a task, mental distraction lasted for 27 seconds in the most distracting hands-free technology and 15 seconds in the least distracting systems. During the 27 second distraction, drivers going 25 mph traveled the length of almost three football fields.

Tasks that increased the level of mental distraction included sending voice-activated text messages, talking on the phone or updating social media.

“The lasting effects of mental distraction pose a hidden and pervasive danger that would likely come as a surprise to most drivers,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The results indicate that motorists could miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while the mind is readjusting to the task of driving.”

The biggest and most important distraction is easy to explain, according to Lewis. She said drivers are distracted when they’re paying attention to anything other than what’s on the road. She said the 27-second distraction time should make everyone think twice.

“Even if you put your phone down you’re still distracted because your brain hasn’t actually shifted gears to think about driving and that’s really where the big distraction is,” Lewis said.

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