Hands-Free Devices are as Dangerous as Handheld Phones
Research conducted by highway safety organizations and leading brain centers shows that using hands-free devices is not safer than using handheld devices while driving. According to Deborah Hersman, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman, your brain concentrates on conversations whether you’re holding and talking on a phone or listening to someone talk to you through a headpiece or speaker phone. In a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) survey of 6,000 drivers, 2400 of the respondents disagreed with Hersman. They considered hands-free cellphones safe while only 720 people said handheld cellphones were safe.
The Governors Highway Safety Association has conducted over 300 cellphone studies since 2000, and Jim Hedlund, former NHTSA official, analyzed the studies. He presented his findings in the GHSA report, “Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do.” Based on the research, drivers are impaired whether they use a handheld or hands-free device.
Marcel Just concurs with Hedlund. He directs the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University. He tested driver performance in 2008. During the test, drivers sat in a simulator inside an MRI machine. The MRI recorded their brain images as they drove while someone talked to them through headphones and as they drove without listening to conversation. Drivers who heard someone talking to them weaved on the road and hugged the edge. They also devoted 37 percent less of their brain to driving tasks than the drivers who didn’t hear conversations.
Mr. Just concluded that a driver’s performance is compromised and the brain performs at decreased proficiency when humans multitask while driving. As the brain concentrates on listening to a cellphone conversation, the driver’s concentration is divided. The same is true when drivers talk to passengers, but talking to passengers isn’t as dangerous as using cellphones because drivers can adjust the conversation level based on traffic conditions, and passenger can warn drivers of dangers before accidents occur.
Hands-Free Devices May be Banned
Based on the highway and brain research results, the NTSB recently recommended a ban on hands-free devices. The NTSB cannot force states to adapt the ban, but their recommendations are influential. In light of the hands-free ban discussion, drivers and passengers are contacting the NTSB and expressing their opinions. The public both praises the proposed ban and expresses concern over it. Part of the concern is a fear that the NTSB will also recommend bans on other sources of distractions including passengers, pets or the radio, other driving distractions.