It’s long been recognized that talking on the phone while driving increases your risk of being involved in a crash. But in recent years, car and technology companies have marketed hands-free devices as a safer way to talk while driving.
Now a growing body of evidence suggests using hands-free phone devices such as ear pieces and Bluetooth is equally as dangerous as talking on a cell phone normally.
The latest study, commissioned by the American Automobile Association and performed by researchers are the University of Utah, measured the cognitive distraction created by performing a wide variety of tasks while driving. Listening to the radio or a book on tape proved to be the least distracting activities, while performing a verbal cognitive task involving math and word recall proved to be the post distracting. Talking on a hands-free celluar device ranked in the middle of the spectrum – more distracting than talking to a passenger and slightly less distracting than holding a phone up to your ear.
There’s more evidence, as well. A systematic review published in 2009 found talking on the phone – hands-free or not – has a negative influence upon driving performance. And it found that people talking on hands-free devices drive at faster speeds than those using hand-held device possibly because the hands-free device provides a false sense of security, resulting in a greater incidence of car accidents.
In addition, a 2012 white paper by the National Safety Council – which includes references from more than 30 research studies – found that “the cognitive distraction from paying attention to conversation – from listening and responding to a disembodied voice – contributes to numerous driving impairments” including inattention blindness (when drivers look at, but do not “see” objects in their path), slower reaction times and problems staying in a lane. That paper concludes: “Driving while talking on cell phones – handheld and hands-free – increases risk of injury and property damage crashes fourfold.”
Taken together, the evidence is clear: Talking on the phone while driving – even when using a hand-free device – is not safe. So they next time you’re tempted to make that quick call or pick up the phone while you’re on the road, take a moment to think about what the research shows.