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DTCI: Hands-free cell calls while driving are not safer

James W. Hehner
September 1, 2010
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DTCI-Hehner-JamesIt is hoped that you had the opportunity to read an article written by my friend, Dave Temple, regarding the dangers of using your cell phone or PDA while driving, which was published in the March 17-30, 2010, edition of the Indiana Lawyer. Dave’s article caused me to wonder whether a hands-free device – such as speakerphone or headset – makes cell phone use safer while driving.

After all, in recent years many states around the country have enacted laws requiring drivers to use hands-free devices for their cellular telephones while operating a vehicle. These laws would lead most of us to believe that the use of hands-free devices is safer than using your hand to hold a phone while driving. You might be surprised to find that scientific studies do not support the conclusion that hands-free devices are safer. In fact those studies demonstrate exactly the opposite.

A University of Utah research study demonstrated that “[b]oth handheld and hands-free cell phones impaired driving, with no significant difference in the degree of impairment. That ‘calls into question driving regulations that prohibited handheld cell phones and permit hands-free cell phones,’ the researchers write.” The University of Utah News Center, “Drivers on Cell Phones are as Bad as Drunks” (2006), at www.unews.utah.edu/p/?r=062206-1.

The University of Utah study found that “[m]otorists who talk on either handheld or hands-free cell phones drove slightly slower, were 9 percent slower to hit the brakes, displayed 24 percent more variation in following distance as their attention switched between driving and conversing, were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking and were more likely to crash.” In fact, three of the study participants actually rear-ended the pace car. Id.

A white paper released by the National Safety Council in March 2010 entitled “Understanding the Distracted Brain: Why Driving While Using Hands-free Cell Phones Is Risky Behavior” revealed that driving while talking on a cell phone – whether a handheld or hands-free device – increases the risk of injury and property crashes fourfold. National Safety Council, “Understanding the Distracted Brain: Why Driving While Using Hands-Free Cell Phones is Risky Behavior” (2010), at www.nsc.org/safety_road/Distracted_Driving/Pages/CognitiveDistraction.aspx.

Amazingly, the University of Utah study found that the level of impairment from using a cell phone while driving is the same as driving with a blood alcohol limit of 0.08 percent. “Drivers on Cell Phones Are as Bad as Drunks.” No responsible driver would ever get behind the wheel of a car with 0.08 percent blood alcohol content; however, that same driver might think nothing of jumping into his vehicle and carrying on a conversation on his cell phone.

The evidence is clear that using a cell phone with or without a hands-free device is dangerous. The next time you get into your vehicle consider turning off your phone before you begin driving and allow your calls go to voicemail; after all, that’s what voicemail is for.

Tell your friends, family, and clients that you will no longer use the phone or take calls while driving. Talk to your children and try to explain to them the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. Employers should consider having a written policy that prohibits employees from using a phone or PDA while driving.

The safest choice is to not use a cell phone while driving. Do not delude yourself into thinking that a hands-free device is a safer alternative. Help protect yourself and others and turn off your phone the next time you get in your car.•

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Jim Hehner is a partner in the Indianapolis firm of Hehner & Associates and is on the board of directors of DTCI. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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