Study Finds Hands-Free Talking While Driving is Just as Dangerous as Held-Held Conversations

Ohio state laws ban cell phone use for texting while driving, but surprisingly not for hand-held use when making a call. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 14 states currently have bans on hand-held phone use, making only hands-free talking while driving legal.

While legislators may think hands-free is the optimal solution for reducing distracted drivers, new evidence has come to light regarding the safety of hands-free phone calls.

Study Reveals Hands-Free Phone Calls Are No Less Dangerous

Researchers at the University of Sussex studied the effects carrying on a conversation with a hands-free device has on driving. The study, published in the Transportation Research journal, featured participants driving in a video simulation while researchers measured their reactions to various stimuli.

A portion of the participants was engaged in answering true or false questions while the other portion was undistracted. Half of the distracted participants received questions that encouraged them to visualize the query to determine the answer, while the other half received questions that required no visualization.

All of the distracted participants:

  • Showed slower reaction times to hazards
  • Identified and reacted to fewer hazards
  • Often looked directly at hazards but failed to see and react to them

The researchers tracked the eye movements of all participants and found that the distracted participants’ showed significantly reduced peripheral vision. The phenomena called “visual tunnelling,” caused the drivers to focus their attention on only a small portion of the road directly in front of them. They were unable to notice hazards on the sides of the road or in adjacent lanes.

Why Hands-Free Phone Calls are Different than In-Car Conversations

The results of this study are not necessarily saying all conversations with a driver are dangerous. Passengers who converse with drivers are aware of the same hazards and will typically pause or reduce conversation when they know the driver needs to concentrate. In phone conversations, the person on the other end is often unaware the listener is driving, and therefore oblivious to the conditions the driver faces.

This new information on the dangers of hands-free phone conversations further drives home the point that any phone use while driving is dangerous. As the study author, Dr. Graham Hole said in response to his findings, “The only safe phone in a car is one that’s switched off.”

Stop In-Car Cell Phone Use and Reduce Driver Distractions

The best way to prevent distracted driving is to put your phone away altogether until you have reached your destination. Even pulling your phone out at a red light can be distracting and can cause traffic congestion and road rage incidents with other drivers.

Distracted driving is not just limited to cell phone use. To ensure your safety and the safety of others around you, make sure you are not engaging in any of these other dangerous driving distractions.