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Debunking the myth of a safe hands-free cellphone

Distracted driving is an epidemic in the United States. It seems as though every person, young and old, possesses a cellphone. Drivers used to talk while driving, now they text, take photos of the environment, and even “selfies” while driving.

Cellphone makers have implemented hands-free technology as a way to mitigate car accidents caused by distracted drivers. Automakers too have created dashboard-type systems that allow drivers to make hands-free calls and texts. Many believe that the more hands-free devices utilized, the less distracted driving accidents there will be. In fact, according to a public poll conducted by the National Safety Council-a nonprofit organization that works with local agencies on safety issues affecting the public-80 percent of drivers believe this.

However, dozens of studies have shown that hands-free devices are not safe when used by drivers. In fact, they may be more dangerous than hand-held devices. But how?

Inability to multi-task

It all comes down to multitasking. According to the Council, it doesn’t matter if a person is using a hand-held or hands-free device because the brain still remains distracted.

“Just like you can’t read a book and talk on the phone, you can’t safely operate a vehicle and talk on the phone,” says David Teater, senior director of Transportation Initiatives at the National Safety Council.

In fact, people who are focused on talk-texting are actually using more brain power than if they are tap-texting.

Not one state has passed a law banning the use of both hand-held and hands-free devices, but the Council hopes to change this someday. The Council is determined to debunk the public assumption that hands-free gadgets are safe. They are getting the word out through their ongoing ‘Hands-free is not risk-free’ campaign.

The future of cellphone use in vehicles

Recent statistics provided by the Department of Education indicate that “at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.” This number has not decreased since 2010. And the problem is likely to get worse.

For instance, Google has recently launched a popular hands-free gadget called Google Glass that will likely be commonplace in the future. The device is essentially an optical head-mounted wearable computer accessible through tap or voice commands and can perform virtually any activity that a smartphone can today. It’s inevitable that drivers will check email, obtain driving directions, text, call, or even surf the web while wearing the device behind the wheel of a car.

Will this new hands-free device only increase distracted driving accidents? Time will only tell.

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