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Safety Nugget for Week of April 20 - Is use of hands free phone safer?< Back to Blog

May 12, 2015
By: G. Yepsen
Categories: Safety

We all multi-task.  It seems to be the way of the 21st century.  Following up on Leah’s great note last week on distracted driving, I thought it would be worthwhile to examine the assertion that using a hands free phone is a safe way to phone while driving. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that it does not matter which is used, hands free or not.  Looking into the many studies, certainly the vast preponderance of evidence shows that hands free phones are equally risky.  As the first article below says, “what matters is simply that they are talking with someone outside the car”.

We all need to look at our own driving habits…..and encourage those we love to look at theirs!

Talking on a cellphone while driving is risky by Jill U. Adams/Washington Post February 10, 2014

Perhaps you’ve heard the claim that talking on the phone while driving is as risky as driving drunk. Indeed, a driving simulator study found “profound” impairments in both cellphone chatters and in people with a blood alcohol level of 0.08.

But here’s the surprising thing: It doesn’t seem to make a difference whether drivers are using hand-held phones or hands-free systems. What matters is simply that they are talking with someone outside the car.

Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study by Suzanne P McEvoy, senior research fellow,1 Mark R Stevenson, professor of injury prevention,1 Anne T McCartt, vice president, research,2 Mark Woodward, professor of biostatistics,1 Claire Haworth, research nurse,3 Peter Palamara, senior research officer,3 and Rina Cercarelli, senior research fellow3

Results Driver's use of a mobile phone up to 10 minutes before a crash was associated with a fourfold increased likelihood of crashing (odds ratio 4.1, 95% confidence interval 2.2 to 7.7, P < 0.001). Risk was raised irrespective of whether or not a hands-free device was used (hands-free: 3.8, 1.8 to 8.0, P < 0.001; hand held: 4.9, 1.6 to 15.5, P = 0.003).


Summary: We used a high-fidelity driving simulator to compare the performance of cell-phone drivers with drivers who were legally intoxicated from ethanol. When drivers were conversing on either a hand-held or hands-free cell-phone, their reactions were sluggish and they attempted to compensate by driving slower and increasing the following distance from the vehicle immediately in front of them. By contrast, when drivers were legally intoxicated they exhibited a more aggressive driving style, following closer to the vehicle immediately in front of them and applying more force while braking. When controlling for driving difficulty and time on task, cell-phone drivers exhibited greater impairment than intoxicated drivers.


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