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Think hands-free cellphones are safe for drivers? Think again

Federal safety regulations prohibit commercial truck drivers from using handheld cellphones to talk or text. This rule is intended to help cut down on the number of distraction-related truck accidents involving cellphone use. Unfortunately, a growing body of evidence suggests that hands-free devices may not be any safer than handheld cellphones when used by drivers behind the wheel.

Hands-free devices are widely regarded as a solution to the nation’s distracted driving epidemic, and many newer vehicles come with built-in communication systems designed to facilitate hands-free communication. Thus, it is easy to see why many people would believe that hands-free cellphone use is safe while driving, even though this may not be the case.

According to a public opinion poll conducted by the National Safety Council, 80 percent of drivers in the United States say they believe it is safer to use a hands-free device than a handheld cellphone while on the road. However, dozens of studies have shown that talking on a hands-free phone while driving is not significantly safer than using a handheld phone.

This is because the brain is still distracted when using a hands-free device, just as it is when talking on a handheld cellphone. When a driver is concentrating on talking instead of driving, the risk of being involved in a traffic accident increases even if his or her eyes and hands are not occupied by the phone.

Ohio law places certain limits on cellphone use while driving, but adult drivers are permitted to talk on cellphones using hands-free devices. However, just because it is not against the law does not mean it is safe. Car and truck drivers who are distracted for any reason, whether legal or illegal, can be liable for damages if they cause a crash.

Source: Insurance Journal, “Why Hands-Free Cell Phones Are Not Safer: Safety Council,” April 15, 2014