Are Hands-Free Devices Actually Safer?

As we have noted previously, November 7, 2000 was a banner day for the state of Texas, since that was the last day without a road fatality in the state. Many, including those at the Texas Department of Transportation, are wondering if the deadly streak since then, which is now in its 19th year, will ever end. Ever since the Sin, Texas roads have averaged about 10 fatalities per day, all of them representing a major loss to families, friends, and others.

Cell Phones Are the Biggest Distracted Driving Problem

It’s a problem the state of Texas has been trying to address all along, but state officials seem to be running up against a problem that is simply not easily dealt with. That is the problem of distracted driving, which becomes a bigger problem every year.  The cell phone has become an integral part of American society by now. They are common because they’re useful; they provide a number of social and technological conveniences that are hard to deny.

However, cell phones are also responsible for 78 percent of all distracted driving accidents nationally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And, despite a constant stream of awareness campaigns and traffic laws designed to curb the practice of cell phone use while driving, many (most?) drivers think nothing of using a cell phone while they’re driving their vehicle down the highway at 70-plus miles per hour.

According to the most recent statistics, about one in every five car accidents in Texas is caused by a distracted driver. That’s really bad, and every one of those accidents is avoidable. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), several studies have shown that talking on a cell phone makes drivers four times as likely to crash as a driver who is not distracted. Worse, drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to cause an injury crash.

A Solution That May have Made Matters Worse

Unfortunately, one of the most oft-cited “solutions” to the problem may not be a solution at all. As a response to the problems caused by cell phones in cars, all sorts of hands-free and voice-activated devices were introduced to the market. The theory was that such devices would make them safer because they reduced the need for users to be manipulating the phone or using it to text. They seemed like a good idea, except that, when they were actually implemented and drivers were using, they actually provided an ongoing series of distractions for drivers.

According to people who study these things, hands-free devices are a problem is because they tend to give drivers an opportunity to be distracted for a longer time. Instead of simply sending a quick text to answer another, the imagined safety has caused drivers to engage in full-on text conversations with others while they are driving. Naturally, their attention is focused on the conversation, and not their vehicle and the road.

The Only Solution May Be to Turn Off the Phone

Researchers at the National Safety Council say that drivers are able to process less than 50 percent of their surroundings, even with the person they are speaking to is in the car. That renders them incapable of anticipating many road hazards and recognizing emergency situations. Add to that the phenomenon of looking at text responses on their phones, and you can see the problem.

Truly, we may have to solve this problem ourselves because this is something the cell phone companies and the government may not be able to solve. We want everyone to come home safely every time they drive somewhere, and not have a distracted driver turn their life upside down.

Perhaps it’s time we all turned off our phones when we get behind the wheel. If you have to have it with you, then turn it off until you’re at a rest stop or you’re at your destination. We are learning that hands-free devices don’t solve the problem, so perhaps the only solution is to disable our phones while we’re driving.

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