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Hands-free Conversation While Driving Challenges the Brain

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Hands-free Conversation While Driving Challenges the Brain

Hands-free devices are often seen as a safe solution to distracting phone conversations while driving. But are they much safer?

On a good day, being a passenger with a reckless, inattentive, or unconfident driver can be stressful. Among the sudden starts and stops, drifting between lanes, and a blind eye towards blind spots, what happens to a driver’s concentration when the phone rings?

Many municipalities have attempted to ban driving while talking on handheld devices, but the issue of hands-free mobile conversation is still an issue among researchers.

Complex decision-making

The most serious automobile accidents occur when drivers make left-hand turns through busy intersections. New research shows this may have to do with the fact that these traffic manoeuvres require a significant amount of mental focus, and distractions from mobile conversations could compromise a driver’s ability to make safe decisions.

Your brain on multi-tasking

A new study was conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital involving a driving simulator equipped with steering wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator inside an MRI. The approach allowed researchers to measure brain behaviour as participants performed simulated left turns with oncoming traffic. The simulation also included distractions in the form of audio recordings asking questions such as “Does a triangle have four sides?”

Researchers found that conversation during driving affects blood flow to crucial parts of the brain. When engaged in dialogue during the simulation, blood flow shifted from the area of the brain that controls vision to the area that controls decision-making. These results are concerning to researchers who explain that left-hand turns are visually challenging, as drivers need to see oncoming traffic, pedestrians, and traffic lights.

According to Dr. Schweizer, a neuroscientist and director of the Neuroscience Research Program at the hospital’s Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, “This study provides real-time neuroimaging evidence supporting previous behavioural observations suggesting that multitasking while driving may compromise vision and alertness. ‘Hands free’ does not mean ‘brains free.’”

A growing issue?

It wasn’t that long ago that steering wheels and cellphones went hand-in-hand. What are your thoughts? Is hands-free a good solution to the cellphones while driving issue?

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