Are Hands Free Devices Really a Safer Alternative While Driving?

If you’re like most people, you feel much safer using a hands-free cell phone instead of a handheld phone when driving. But a recent poll conducted by the National Safety Council (NSC), proves otherwise.

More than 30 different studies determined hands-free devices are no safer than handheld cell phones. That’s because the brain is distracted by the cell phone conversation regardless of whether or not you are actually holding the phone.

According to David Teater, Senior Director of Transportation at the NSC, “While many drivers honestly believe they are making the safe choice by using a hands-free device, it’s just not true. The problem is the brain does not truly multi-task. Just like you can’t read a book and talk on the phone, you can’t safely operate a vehicle and talk on the phone. With some state laws focusing on handheld bans and carmakers putting hands-free technology in vehicles, no wonder people are confused.”

Drivers using hands-free and handheld phones while driving experience what’s been labeled, ‘inattentive blindness’. They look at but don’t really see objects. It is estimated drivers on the phone do not see up to 50 percent of what’s going on around them while driving. This type of distraction makes it hard for drivers to monitor their surroundings, seek and identify any hazards, detect driving cues and respond to unexpected situations.

The council also stated vehicles come pre-equipped with dashboard infotainment systems that allow drivers to make hands-free calls, send text messages and email and update social media statuses. Poll respondents believed if the car comes with the infotainment system then it must be safe to use, but that’s like thinking it’s safe to drive over 100 mph if the car is built to go that fast. It’s just not the case.

The “hands-free is not risk-free” campaign and poll were conducted in observation of April Distracted Driving Awareness Month to raise awareness and debunk the hands-free myth. The poll reported some interesting statistics, including:

  • 80 percent of American drivers surveyed believe hands-free devices are safer than using a handheld phone.
  • 70 percent of poll participants who said they used hands-free devices said they did so for safety reasons.
  • 53 percent of respondents assumed hands-free devices must be safe to use if they are built into vehicles.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting the use of handheld cell phones while driving. To date, no state or municipality has passed a law banning hands-free use of phones while driving.

Janet Froetscher, National Safety Council president and CEO says, “Cell phone use while driving has become a serious public health threat. Several states and municipalities have passed legislation allowing hands-free devices while driving. These laws give the false impression that hands-free phones are a safe alternative, when the evidence is clear they are not. Understanding the distraction of the brain will help people make the right decision and put down their cell phones while driving.”

For more information and to take the council’s pledge to drive cell free, click here.