Using hands-free while driving not that safe as you may think

While 80% of drivers in the U.S. think using a hands-free device while driving is safer than using a hand-held phone, studies have, unfortunately, indicated that this simply isn’t true. According to the National Safety Council, 24% of all call crashes involve cell phone conversations, hand-held and otherwise. In fact, some research even suggests that talking on the phone through a hands-free device is more dangerous than driving drunk. Protect yourself and your loved ones and educate yourself with the most current research on distracted driving safety.

A hands-free device can be a Bluetooth earpiece, dashboard system installed in the vehicle itself, or a speakerphone feature on your phone. According to research by the National Safety Council, the reason hands-free devices are so dangerous is because they are distracting. Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of car crashes in the United States, and goes beyond texting. Anything that distracts the eyes, hands, or mind from the task at hand is considered a distraction.

When listening or speaking on the phone, the brain’s ability to process moving images decreases by up to 1/3, and, even when the driver’s eyes are on the road, they overlook 50% of what is around them. Some may say talking on a hands-free device is the same as having a conversation with a passenger in the car, but this isn’t true, because passengers also watch the road and will usually warn drivers about dangers they may overlook. In fact, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration also says talking on a cell phone is more dangerous than having a conversation with a passenger.

A study which was carried out in 2006 to test adults who drive intoxicated, revealed they were less dangerous than those who held a phone conversation while driving. Additionally, that same study had more cell phone users crash than drunk drivers, and they found no difference between the performance of drivers who used hand-held phones or hands-free devices.

Many similar studies have produced comparable results, and researchers at Touro University, found the level of impairment between drunk drivers and hands-free cell phone users to be nearly equal. Even the popular scientists and TV hosts of the popular show MythBusters put the drunk driving vs. cell phone use theory to the test. In their experiment, the drunk driver did better on a driving course than the driver who spoke on the phone with a hands-free device.

Some speculate that people drive more dangerously when they are using a hands-free device because they are lulled into a false sense of security. Hands-free devices have been popularly advertised as safety measures to minimize the dangers of distracted driving and avoid hand-held cell phone use. Regardless of the ample research debunking this claim, many drivers remain unaware of the risk of hands-free use and companies continue to produce and advertise hands-free devices.

Therefore, we encourage you not to use a cell phone, hands-free or otherwise, while driving any type of motor vehicle.

Based on this research, AAA urges the automotive and electronics industries to join us in exploring:

-- Limiting use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities such as climate control, windshield wipers and cruise control, and to ensure these applications do not lead to increased safety risk due to mental distraction while the car is moving.

-- Disabling certain functionalities of voice-to-text technologies such as using social media or interacting with e-mail and text messages so that they are inoperable while the vehicle is in motion.

-- Educating vehicle owners and mobile device users about the responsible use and safety risks for in-vehicle technologies.