PowerPoint for this landmark study of distracted driving, the AAA Foundation challenges the notion that drivers are safe and attentive as long as their eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel. Using cutting-edge methods for measuring brain activity and assessing indicators of driving performance, this research examines the mind of the driver, and highlights the mental distractions caused by a variety of tasks that may be performed behind the wheel.

By creating a first-of-its-kind rating scale of driver distractions, this study shows that certain activities – such as talking on a hands-free cell phone or interacting with a speech-to-text email system – place a high cognitive burden on drivers, thereby reducing the available mental resources that can be dedicated to driving. By demonstrating that mentally-distracted drivers miss visual cues, have slower reaction times, and even exhibit a sort of tunnel vision, this study provides some of the strongest evidence yet that “hands-free” doesn’t mean risk free.


  • Distracted driving is a major threat to highway safety, and is responsible for well over 3,000 fatalities each year.
  • There are three types of driver distractions:
    • Visual (eyes off the road)
    • Manual (hands off the wheel)
    • Cognitive (mind off the task)
  • Of these, cognitive distraction is the hardest to observe and study
  • Prevailing assumption: “hands-free” = safe
  • Public: 66% say driver use of hand-held devices is unacceptable; 56% say hands-free is acceptable
  • Policymaker: 41 States + DC ban texting while driving; 0 ban hands-free devices
  • Industry: In-vehicle speech-based technologies and infotainment systems are proliferating and are often marketed as safe by virtue of being hands-free
  • AAA Foundation set out in 2011 to investigate this issue


  1.  Isolate the cognitive elements of distracted driving;
  2.  Evaluate the amount of cognitive workload caused by various tasks performed behind the wheel; and
  3.  Create a rating scale that ranks tasks according to how much cognitive distraction they cause.