Are Hands-Free Devices Safer While Driving?
Ever since car phones became more common in the 1980s and 90s, people have been attempting to multitask in the car. Now that distracted driving is a major traffic safety issue, law enforcement, lawmakers, and drivers alike advocate for the use of hands-free devices to promote safer driving. Are hands-free devices really safer to use while driving?
How Dangerous Is Driving While Using a Cell Phone?
Most people realize that driving while texting or talking on the phone poses a risk to passengers as well as other drivers on the road. Why is cell phone usage so much riskier than other distractions drivers commonly encounter? To understand the concept, we must first understand the distractions involved.
Experts categorize distractions into three types:
- Visual distractions cause the driver’s eyes to stray from the road, increasing reaction times because drivers are not aware of obstacles until it is too late. Visual distractions include checking text messages and reading maps.
- Manual distractions cause the driver’s hands to leave the wheel, increasing reaction times because the driver must first replace hands on the wheel before avoiding obstacles. Manual distractions include adjusting radio volume and eating or drinking.
- Cognitive distractions cause the driver’s mind to divert attention somewhere other than the road ahead, increasing reaction times because the driver does not process obstacles as they appear. Cognitive distractions include telephone conversations and daydreaming.
Cell phone usage while driving is particularly dangerous because cell phones encompass all three types of distraction. When you check a text message while driving, you must remove at least one hand from the wheel, divert your eyes to read the message and focus your mind on reading the message rather than the road. When you consider the fact that in the five seconds it takes to read a text your car could travel as much as one hundred yards, the risks of cell phone usage while driving causing a car accident becomes clear.
How Do Hands-Free Devices Help?
Companies designed hands-free devices to remove some of the risks of cell phone usage while driving. Depending on the type of device, users can answer the phone via voice command, a button on the steering wheel, the car’s touch screen, or the phone itself. Then, audio plays over the car’s speakers and the user can respond without holding the phone. Similar functions exist for reading texts aloud.
Hands-free devices remove most of the manual distractions from the equation and only require a brief second of visual distraction to answer the call. Arguably, a reduction in the number of distractions involved makes for a safer driving experience, right? Perhaps.
Hands-Free Devices Still Pose Risks
Although a driver’s hands and eyes may be on-task while driving and talking on a hands-free device, his or her mind remains at least partially on the conversation. Telephone conversations actually decrease the mind’s ability to process moving images, increasing reaction times as well as the likelihood you will experience an accident. Overall, your field of vision narrows as much as 50%, while maintaining a telephone conversation, including a conversation using a hands-free device.
In fact, some research suggests that driving while talking on a hands-free device is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. The hosts of a popular television show performed an experiment testing the performance of drivers talking on a traditional cell phone, using a hands-free device, and operating while intoxicated. The intoxicated drivers outperformed either group of cell phone users.
Overall, while using a hands-free device may prove a bit safer in some cases than holding a traditional phone or sending a text, conversations distract you from your primary focus while on the road – driving. The only way to minimize cell phone distractions while on the road is to eliminate the use of cell phones altogether.