Hands-free phones impair driving

You may be aware of the dangers of driving and texting, using mobile apps, or talking with a handset. But did you know that just talking–even on a hands-free device, such as a Bluetooth headset–is too distracting for most drivers?

New research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggeststhat talking on a phone, whether you’re using a handset or a hands-free device, is just toodistracting.

“There is a large body of evidence showing that talking on a phone,whether handheld or hands-free, impairs driving and increases your riskof having a crash,” says Anne McCartt, senior vice president forresearch at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, accordingto the Associated Press.

This is why the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) saidTuesday that allstates should ban the use of electronic devices while driving,including hands-free phone kits. This ban was suggested after the NTSBreviewed a recent crash in Missouri that killed two people and injured38. In the crash, the driver of a truck sent and received 11 textmessages in the 11 minutes before crashing into a large tractor-trailerrig. The crash caused a multicar pileup, which included a bus.

While the suggested ban (the NTSB cannot enact laws on its own, it canonly make suggestions) would include hands-free kits for phones, itwould not include GPS units and other electronicsthat “assist in the driving process.” You’d also be covered if you usedyour phone in an emergency situation, such as to report an accident ora drunk driver. However, it would be up to individual law enforcementofficers to determine whether a situation was an emergency.

No evidence hands-free is safer

It should be noted that what the research really shows is that there’sno evidence that someone using a hands-free device has a lower risk ofcrashing than someone using a handset. According to the AP, a similarstudy inSwedenshowed the same thing: “There is no evidence suggestingthat hands-free mobile phone use is less riskythan handheld use.”

However, this doesn’t necessarily translate into “cellphones aredangerous.” The AP points out that there is no hard evidence thataccidents are increasing because of phone use–in fact, last year highway fatalities in the UnitedStates hit a record low–the lowest since 1949.

In March 2010, a study from the Universityof Utah showed that whilemost people are really bad at multitasking, there are a few”supertaskers” who can drive safely while talking on a hands-freephone. However, the study found that a measly 2.5 percent of thepopulation is supertaskers, while the rest of us are just (really bad)multitaskers.

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