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Behind the Wheel: Hands-Free Devices No Safer Than Hand-Held

Many of us are fully aware of the dangers of distracted driving, but we seem to have been lulled into a false sense of security with regard to one aspect: hands-free cell phones.
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Our Coral Springs car accident lawyers know that in terms of accident prevention, hands-held devices do almost nothing to keep us safer.

Now is an appropriate time to drive this message home, as April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Although laws restricting cell phone use by drivers vary significantly from state-to-state, there are several places that allow hands-free devices, while hand-held devices are banned. While we would posit that some restriction is certainly better than none at all, we must question this erroneous notion that somehow not actually holding a device while having a phone conversation makes it safer.

(It’s worth noting that Florida has no cell phone restrictions at all, though it’s likely that could change in the current legislative session, with a number of bills working their way through committees.)

The National Safety Council notes several studies that have shown that drivers on cell phones – regardless of what kind – suffer from something called inattention blindness. This is sometimes referred to as tunnel vision. Essentially, the driver engaged in a conversation is looking at the road ahead, but they aren’t actually “seeing” it or fully processing and reacting to it.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended in late 2011 that all states and D.C. enact bans of all electronic portable devices, including those that are hand-free. And yet, legislation almost always focuses on texting and handheld phones. Many employer policies too allow the use of hands-free devices. Presumably, all of this is under the premise that hands-free is somehow safer.

It’s not.

One tragic example was noted in Michigan, when a 20-year-old driver using a hands-free device blew through a red light and failed to brake even after smashing into several vehicles in the intersection. She was traveling nearly 50 miles per hour and she never even touched the brakes. Witnesses said she wasn’t on her phone or dialing or texting. She had been looking straight ahead. Both hands were on the wheel. She wasn’t drunk or drowsy. But she was talking into a headset. A 12-year-old boy was killed.

The problem is that hands-free devices do nothing to eliminate the distraction caused by an over-the-phone conversation.

Our society tends to value the ability to multi-task. But the reality is, doing two things at once means at least one won’t be done with optimal effectiveness. Our brains have a limited capacity for attention. A person who is talking a cell phone and driving has their attention divided, their brain overloaded. The driver may not be consciously aware that he or she is not processing the entire surroundings.

Drivers who are talking with passengers in the vehicle actually make fewer mistakes in this regard than those talking on a phone. Part of it is that passengers are also actively monitoring the surroundings with the driver. Passengers may also on cue suppress conversations when driving conditions are more dangerous or demanding. Someone on the phone can’t do that.

This month, pledge to end ALL cell phone conversations behind the wheel.

Call Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Understanding the distracted brain, Why driving while using hands-free cell phones is risky behavior, April 2012, National Safety Council

More Blog Entries:
Broward Traffic Safety Watch: Road Deaths on the Rise, Feb. 26, 2013, Coral Springs Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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