Hands-free technologies make it easier for motorists to text, talk on the phone, and use Facebook while they drive. But is there a cost to this convenience?

The answer is yes, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, releasing the most in-depth analysis to date of mental distractions behind the wheel. The study found that voice-activated in-car technologies are more dangerous than hands-free or handheld devices.

In the study, drivers engaged in six common tasks, from talking on the phone to responding to voice-activated emails. Their brainwaves, eye movement, reaction time and other metrics were evaluated by experts from the University of Utah.

Experts assessed what happens to drivers’ mental workload when they multitask. This information was used to rate levels of mental distraction similar to the Saffir-Simpson scale used to rank hurricanes:

• Category 1 included tasks with minimal risks, such as listening to the radio.

• Category 2 included tasks with moderate risks. This included talking on a cell-phone, both handheld and hands-free.

• Category 3 included tasks with extensive risks. This included listening and responding to in-vehicle, voice-activated email features.

As a safety advocate, AAA will use the results of this study to promote dialogue about distracted driving with policymakers. The auto club engaged in more than 100 bills introduced at the state capitol this year.

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