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How Your 'Distracted-Driving' Dangers Rank

BOSTON (TheStreet) — Hands-free cellphone systems distract drivers almost as much as holding a device up to your ear — and voice-to-text email programs are more or less the worst of all, AAA research shows.

"'Hands-free' is not risk free," says University of Utah researcher David Strayer, who recently studied distracted driving for AAA. "You can get impairments even with some of the new voiced-based [systems] that allow you to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road."

Strayer and his team performed a series of experiments on volunteers to measure how a range of distractions — from listening to the radio to answering math questions — affect driving proficiency.

Using road tests and driving simulators, researchers monitored how volunteers' brake times and adherence to speed limits and proper following distances changed as subjects engaged in a series of side activities. Investigators also recorded participants' brain waves and eye and head movements to see how well drivers stayed focused on the road.

Based on the findings, Strayer created a system to rate how much different activities impair drivers.

Rankings range from a Category 1 (minimal distraction) to a Category 5, which the professor describes as "off the charts." Tasks that demand roughly the same amount of brainpower as regular driving rate a Category 1, while those involving 200% the concentration levels garner a Category 2, etc.

Strayer says anything higher than a Category 2 appears dangerous, as "you're pretty minimally engaged as a driver by the time you get above that."

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