Myth or Fact: Handsfree is Safer

Myth or Fact: Handsfree is Safer
[![More Than 1-in-4 Car Crashes Involve Cell Phone-Distracted Drivers. April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.](]( month should be Distracted Driving Awareness Month!
Surely you know someone who could easily admit that they practically live in their car. Between work, kids, sports, social activities and more the typical American driver spends up to three hours a day in their vehicle, often doing much more than driving. Center consoles have actually been designed to accommodate eating and driving, and mobile devices with nearly unlimited access to Wi-Fi make it possible to do everything from talking and texting to emailing, tweeting and even shopping online while on the road.

But all this living in our cars can prove deadly.

The 2014 edition of the National Safety Council’s (NSC) Injury Facts found that cell phones are a factor in 26% of all motor vehicle crashes.

Randy Romanski, Safety Programs Chief at the State Patrol Division of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation provides a sobering view on this issue. “Distracted driving takes many forms,” explains Romanski, “all of which can be dangerous for drivers, passengers, and anyone else on the roadway. Wisconsin’s statutes prohibit texting while driving and prohibit cell phone use for drivers with probationary licenses. Wisconsin law is clear that ‘No person while driving a motor vehicle shall be so engaged or occupied as to interfere with the safe driving of that vehicle’.” Laws vary from state to state but the importance of focusing on the road at all times is universally good advice.

If you think you are off the hook because you only use your phone to talk and not text, think again. Without a doubt taking your eyes off the road for even a moment to check your email can be a deadly decision, but alarmingly studies show that 21% of all crashes involve drivers talking on handheld or hands-free phones. It is also best to assume that even if you are not using your phone while driving, someone near you unfortunately, probably is.

Scientists and car crash investigators have come to a disturbing conclusion: People talking on cell phones, hands free or not, can suffer from “inattention blindness.”* According to a NSC report, if a motorist is engrossed in a phone conversation, they can look straight ahead yet not see things – to the point that a motorist’s eyes are closed. This discovery has led to a new kind of distracted driving called cognitive distraction. Cognitive distraction means people do not even notice that they are distracted.

Cell phone users try to justify their phone conversations while driving, but researchers and public safety professionals have debunked their four main arguments as myths.

Myth #1: Drivers can multitask

Reality: The brain can truly only focus on one activity at a time. Sure, we can switch back and forth and multitask, but safe driving requires as much of our full attention as possible. “Despite the fact that many people believe they are good at multi-tasking, the human brain does not truly multi-task.” Explains Romanski “Performing tasks like eating a meal, combing your hair, or talking on a cell phone focuses the driver’s attention everywhere except where it should be – on the road.” The NSC reports people using cell phones while driving are four times more likely to be in a serious crash.

Myth #2: Talking on a cell phone is the same as talking with a passenger

Reality: Studies show that cell phone users are more oblivious to the road than drivers who talk with passengers. “A passenger adds another set of eyes in the vehicle,” said Romanski, “knows what the current traffic patterns are, and can help provide direction to the driver, while cell phone conversations distract the driver’s attention from the task at hand – operating the vehicle safely.”

Myth #3: Hands-free phones are completely safe

Reality: This notion confuses mechanical distraction with cognitive distraction. Romanski explains, “Several studies have indicated that hands-free devices are no safer than handheld devices because the driver’s brain remains distracted by the cell phone conversation and a driver’s reaction time to critical events is impaired.”

Myth #4: Cell phone drivers are still more alert than drunk drivers

Reality: A study from the University of Utah that points out in using a mobile phone while driving – regardless of whether you use a hands-free connection or not – “delays a driver’s reactions as much as having an alcohol-concentration level of .08 percent.” Romanski supports this by stating that “[a]nything that impairs a driver’s ability to control the vehicle safely is a serious threat on our roadways. Technology continues to evolve, and the use of devices to text or call while driving appears to be on the rise.”

“That can lead to more distractions and more crashes,” states Romanski, “however Wisconsin-specific crash data relating to cell phone use is very limited. Impaired driving, whether from alcohol or drugs, is the single largest quantifiable traffic safety problem in Wisconsin. In 2013, there were 4,946 alcohol-related crashes that resulted in 179 deaths and 2,651 injuries. Alcohol was a factor in 34% of all crashes. We must put an end to this senseless loss of life by moving our fatalities toward Zero in Wisconsin.”

The bottom line is this: Keep your eyes on the road, your mind clear of distractions and get to wherever you go safely.

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Source: National Safety Council
Strayer, David L., Drews, Frank A., and Johnston, William A. “Cell Phone-Induced Failures of Visual Attention During Simulated Driving.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 9.1 (2003): 23-32*

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