Hang Up & Drive: Hands-Free Phones Aren’t Safer

| 6/24/2009 9:02:48 AM

crashed carHands-free legislation leads people to believe that it’s safe (or at least safer) to drive while talking on a cell phone with the aid of a hands-free device, reports Governing. Well, it’s not.

Governing points to a 2006 study that found no difference between drivers talking on hand-held phones and those talking on hands-free devices—as soon as people started talking, they became more likely to rear end another car than a legally drunk driver. More recently, researchers found that simply talking on a phone cuts the brain activity devoted to driving nearly 40 percent. Even the wireless industry seems to be having second thoughts: Traditionally opposed to handheld bans, in January the industry shifted its official line to “neutral.”

So why aren’t we seeing outright bans on cell phones in the car? Twenty-nine states have enacted some form of limitation on phone use while driving, but none have gone so far as to wholly prohibit it. Governing has a theory as to why:

The best explanation is a rather disturbing one: Many drivers, state legislators among them, have simply come to depend on using cell phones during drive time to take care of business, check in with spouses or catch up with friends. This may make long commutes more professionally and socially productive. But it also makes the roads more dangerous for everybody.

Pam Fisher, New Jersey’s director of traffic safety, tells Governing that we’re at “the beginning of a ‘social norming’ process.”  Fisher thinks that attitudes toward talking on the phone while driving can and will shift—much in the same way drunk driving became socially unacceptable. In the meantime, pass on the suggestion: Hang up and drive.

Source: Governing

6/18/2014 5:54:01 AM

As a driving instructor I couldn't agree with this any more. Handsfree kits still require the person behind the wheel to not be completely concentrating on their surroundings because they are more focused on the telephone conversation they are currently in. When I am tutoring my students for http://www.drltestschoolofmotoring.co.uk, I try my best to drill into them that mobile phones should not be used at any point during a car journey if you are the driver of the vehicle. Doing so not only puts yourself at risk of an accident, but also other road users who you may potentially hit.

6/26/2009 7:29:04 PM

Thanks for the link, Julie. That's exactly the kind of information I was looking for. The concept of situational awareness sure makes sense, but there are still unanswered questions that require further studies, as the article states. At any rate, I'm all for regulations to make the roads safer, as long as there are also systems put in place to reduce the number of cars on the road.

julie kate hanus
6/26/2009 11:04:34 AM

Hey, Sandy. That’s a great question to raise—isn’t “hands-free” the same as talking to someone in the car. And, actually, there is a sort-of interesting explanation for what might account for a difference. Harvard Medical School psychologist Todd Horowitz calls it “situational awareness.” People who are in the car with you can see when you’re coming up into, say, a traffic jam or are preparing to merge—and instinctively quiet down. Additionally, passengers can respond to physical cues (like noticing a driver becoming tense, so on). Horowitz was a guest on the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s “Science Update” show. There’s a pretty interesting breakdown of his research if you follow this link: http://www.sciencenetlinks.com/sci_update.php?DocID=368

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