In my recent “Drivers Using Cell Phones” article, there were some distracted driving statistics and a question posed, “Do hands free devices really work?”
Before I give the findings, here is some background. The three categories of distractions a driver can have while using a mobile device are visual, manual and cognitive. Hands-free devices can help to eliminate many of the first two, but there are often still some amounts of visual and manual distractions. For instance, looking at the phone when it rings or pushing answer for those hands-free devices that are not activated by voice commands.
So, does the use of hands-free devices significantly decrease the risk of using mobile devices? The National Council for Safety (NSC) surprisingly says “no.” Although the brain can quickly change tasks, it cannot do two things as proficiently at once.
Another surprising fact the NSC has published is that voice-to-text might be more dangerous than typing texts by hand. A natural next question some people might have is, “Isn’t it just as distracting to have a conversation with a passenger in the car?” The NSC says “no.”
This is because a passenger can see when there are challenging situations for the driver and can stop talking. When a driver is having a hands-free conversation, this obviously does not happen. Also a passenger might be able to offset their distraction to the driver by pointing out potential challenges in traffic.
With the above information, the old phrase of “hang up and drive” might now need to be “turn your mobile devices off and drive.” For those with teen drivers, there are a few apps, such as SafeDrive and AT&T DriveMode, that can prevent them from texting while driving over 10 mph. Additionally, when a message is received, the app can alert the sender with a customized message that the cells owner is unable to respond at the moment. These are great apps to have if returning texts or answering phone calls while driving might tempt a teen.