The evidence on hands-free cell phone devices while driving

Whether it’s a quick call to ask what’s needed from the grocery store or catching up with a long-distance friend – people everywhere talk on cell phones while they’re driving.

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.

Comments

  1. Malc says:

    I recently had a very close shave whist talking on hands free whilst driving – Only the vigilance of the other driver (Who gave me a well deserved blast on the horn and probably quite a few new names) avoided a collision which would have been entirely my fault, as that final 10% of concentration just wasn’t happening with me.
    Lesson learned – I will not now make or receive a call whist on the move. I have told my employers that, and the are fine with it.

  2. Paul says:

    How is talking to a passenger in the car more distracting than a hands free phone call!? What’s next, advising not to talk to passengers or not taking passengers at all because of an ‘Increased risk’

    • jeff says:

      read it again, it didn’t say that talking to passenger is more distracting than a hands free phone call.

      • Paul says:

        I read it quite clearly the first time thanks. My point is that being on a hands free phone call is no more distracting than having a passenger in the car.

        • Jared S says:

          You can say whatever you want, it says nothing to do with talking to a passenger is just as distracting, only that hands free calls are just as distracting as normal ones. It also gives you the message that driving with these mobile devises increases driving risk 4fold, so believe what you want to believe but the evidence is clear.

          • Paul says:

            “You can say whatever you want”
            I will
            “it says nothing to do with talking to a passenger is just as distracting”
            I didn’t say it did
            “only that hands free calls are just as distracting as normal ones”
            No they are not

  3. Andrew Currie says:

    Sadly, here in the UK, even organisations that present themselves as involved in road safety, are still endorsing hands-free phone conversations when driving.
    Following their release of a video that inferred that hands-free use was safe, I provided GEM (Guild of Experienced Motorists) various references to studies. Despite that, my latest copy of their magazine carries a whole page article about mobile phone use, yet manages to avoid mentioning the dangers of all phone conversations whether hand held or hands-free.
    Andrew Currie
    Research and Education, specialising in driving and road safety

  4. Claude says:

    While I wholeheartedly agree with the article, I almost have the impression it was written while driving :-)
    Here’s why:
    “The latest study, commissioned by the American Automobile Association and performed by researchers are the University of Utah” should read “…by researchers AT the University…”
    “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” should read “… proved to be the MOST distracting…”
    Cheers
    Claude

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