Time to hang up the hands-free?

If I asked you whether you drink and drive, I’d expect the answer to be a resounding ‘no’. We’re all well aware that mixing alcohol with motoring is a deadly combination. If I asked whether you use a hand-held mobile while driving, again, I’d expect the answer to be no, as the dangers are so well documented. But if I asked whether you take calls on a hands-free device while at the wheel, I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer was ‘yes’. After all, aren’t they’re a safe alternative to a hand-held and no more dangerous than chatting to passenger sat next to you?
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Actually, using a hands-free kit is just as risky as using a hand-held device and significantly more dangerous than having a chatty passenger sat next to you. In fact, the effect of talking on a phone when driving has been shown to be worse than drinking certain levels of alcohol – driver reaction time have been found to be 30% slower while using a hands-free phone than driving with a blood alcohol level of 80mg per 100ml of blood, the current UK limit. Sobering stuff, and one of the reasons why Brake, the road safety charity, is calling for a change in attitudes towards hands-free devices and a complete ban on using them at the wheel.

Hanging up on hands-free kits

A recent study from Brake and Direct Line has found that almost half (45%) of the 1,000 drivers surveyed admitted to talking on a phone while at the wheel. Although this figure is down from 54% in 2006, the road safety charity believes the lack of a total ban on all mobile devices, including hands-free, means many drivers are unaware that using a hands-free device is just as dangerous as using a normal hand-held mobile. While the use of hand-held devices has dropped from over a third (36%) in 2006 to one-in-eight (13%), the use of hands-free devices is on the rise, up to four-in-ten (38%) from one-in-five (22%) eight years ago.

Read more about the dangers of driver distraction in my article Do you multi-task while at the wheel?

Texting peril

The figures also show that almost a third (30%) of drivers admit to texting while at the wheel, with nearly half (44%) of young drivers, those aged between 18 and 24 admitting to doing so. And so Brake is calling for a total ban and for penalty fees to be raised from the current £100 fine to somewhere in the region of £500 to £1,000 to act as a real deterrent. In the meantime, the road safety charity is advising drivers to reduce the risk of temptation by turning phones to silent and even locking them in the boot so they are out of sight and reach. If you’re still not convinced of the dangers, here are those sobering facts at a glance…

Using a mobile at the wheel – the facts.

  • Talking on a hands-free phone is just as dangerous as talking on a hand-held – it’s the call itself that is the main distraction.
  • Using a mobile phone at the wheel slows reaction times and makes controlling speed and lane position more difficult – and the crash risk remains higher than normal for up to 10 minutes after the call has ended.
  • A study of driver behaviour that looked at over two million miles’ worth of in-vehicle video footage has shown 22% of crashes are at least partly caused by driver distraction. Drivers who perform a secondary task while driving are two to three times more likely to crash.
  • Drivers who use a phone while driving, whether hand-held or hands-free, are four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury.
  • Driver reaction times when using a hands-free mobile are 50% slower than under normal conditions.
  • Drivers who text or use smartphone apps at the wheel have 35% slower reaction times, poor lane control and are 23 times more likely to crash.
Over to you - will you be hanging up the hands-free or do you believe it's no different to talking to a passenger sat next to you? Let us know...
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