February 27, 2012

Research shows hands-free mobiles just as risky in cars (2 PICS)

Study finds that hands-free cell phones are no safer on the road
WASHINGTON – When someone is talking to you, your brain is listening, processing and thinking about what's being said — even if you're in the driver's seat trying to concentrate on traffic.

That's why drivers get distracted during mobile phone conversations, even when using hands-free phones, researchers say. It's also part of the reason why the US National Transportation Safety Board made a recommendation this week it knows a lot of drivers won't like — that US states ban hands-free, as well as hand-held, mobile phone use while driving.

It's not where your hands are, but where your mind is that counts, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman told reporters.

The board doesn't have the power to force states to impose a ban, but its recommendations carry significant weight. And, judging from the public reaction, they've already started a national conversation on the subject. NTSB has been swamped with calls, emails and tweets from drivers both praising and condemning the action.

Is using your mobile phone while driving really that distracting?
It's the proposed hands-free ban that has generated the most controversy.

What's next? No passengers? No kids? No tuning the radio? Maybe NTSB will ban driving altogether, was the tenor of the response on Twitter.

The scientific evidence, however, is generally with NTSB, researchers said.

"There is a large body of evidence showing that talking on a phone, whether hand-held or hands-free, impairs driving and increases your risk of having a crash," Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said.

Jim Hedlund, a safety consultant and former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official, recently examined 300 mobile phone studies for the Governors Highway Safety Association. He couldn't recall a single study that showed drivers talking on a headset or hands-free phone were at any less risk of an accident than drivers with one hand on the wheel and a phone in the other.

A similar analysis for the government of Sweden recently came to the same conclusion: "There is no evidence suggesting that hands-free mobile phone use is less risky than handheld use."

What's missing is hard evidence that accidents are increasing because of cellphone use. One reason is that US privacy laws have made it difficult for researchers to study whether mobile phones were in use in accidents in the US. The two large studies that have been done — in Canada and Australia — found drivers were four times more likely to have a crash if talking on a mobile phone. It didn't matter whether the mobile phone was hands-free or hand-held.
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