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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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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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