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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.•

__________

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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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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