As texting and driving laws become stricter, and as more states ban handheld calling, many people see hands-free phone use as a safe alternative. But how safe is it?

Currently 14 states (California, Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia) have passed a handheld phone ban. Other states have partial bans, and some individual counties have developed their own regulations.

Bluetooth and voice recognition systems appear to be the ideal solution to the distracted driving epidemic. Having a device that reads or writes your text messages and even dials your phone should eliminate the danger, right?

However, that may not be the case. Recent studies have found that hands-free phones are not actually risk-free. Check out some of the most recent statistics below. You may want to think twice before Bluetooth dialing or asking Siri to text for you.

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Stats and Studies:

  • AAA found that impairment lingered for 27 seconds after cognitive distraction involving in-vehicle information systems.
  • Texas A&M Transportation InstituteTexas A&M Transportation Institute found that driver response times were delayed regardless of texting method. Even with hands-free texting, drivers took about 2 times as long to recognize and react to hazards.  
  • The National Safety Council discovered that drivers using handheld and hands-free cell phones often look but fail to see up to 50% of their driving environment.
  • Another study, published in the Transportation Research Journal, found that drivers who use hands-free phones looked ahead on the road at an area approximately 4 times smaller than undistracted drivers. The study found that speaking on a hands-free device still ignited drivers’ visual imagination and as a result, only half as many road hazards were detected.

What’s the Takeaway?

There is a variety of hands-free technology available. There are earpieces, dashboard systems, microphones and other voice-to-text or voice-to-call devices. Most new vehicles even come equipped with some version of this technology. Yet, while these hands-free devices may appear to be a safer alternative, the truth is that any type of voice recognition system can still be cognitively demanding.

Distraction is distraction. Whether drivers are texting or voice calling, their focus and attention is affected. This inattention can lead to undetected hazards and collisions. The best option for drivers who need to call, text or set up a navigation system is to pull over first. The only way to stop distracted driving is to stay focused on the road. A text or call, handheld or hands-free, can wait.

Photo credits: Wikimedia