Is Hands-Free Driving Safer?

A recent news story talks about the tension between driving safely and the proliferation of electronic devices one can use in a car. Many of them can now be used “hands free” with the hope that it will prevent drivers from fumbling around, trying to type in a number or a text as they drive down the highway.

Not everyone is convinced that merely making cellphones, GPSs, iPods and every other electronic device people use in cars, hands free will really help people drive safely.

Studies by the National Transportation Safety Board have pointed out that texting while driving is like driving more than a football field with your eyes closed.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued rules banning the texting for Commercial Motor Vehicle drivers, based on findings that a driver is 23 times more likely to have, as the agency describes generically, as a “safety critical event,” but which means accident or near accident.

Tempted By Texting?

While most people recognize the inherent danger of doing other things while driving, people want or need information and they do not want to wait. Just checking that last tweet or updating Facebook?

The problem we need to address is whether this is acceptable. The behavior is a recent enough development that, as a society, we have not defined the norms. We think it is “just once” when, in fact, it is many times, and for some, all of the time.

“When you’re on the road, your primary responsibility is to make sure you get to your destination safely,” said Debbie Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). “It’s not to conduct business, not to socialize. It’s to protect the people in your vehicle and all of those around you.”

NTSB notes that hands-free devices help but do not eliminate the distraction. Because, even when you do not have to take your hands off the wheel, your mind is not as focused on the job at hand — driving.

Hands On The Wheel And Mind On Driving

“What’s still debatable is the kinds of things that might be a cognitive distraction,” Hersman said. “Not necessarily distracting your hands, but distracting your mind and attention from the road.”

At one time, doctors smoked in examination rooms and people in bars and restaurants had “one for the road.” Hands-free systems may help remove some distractions from driving, but the answer may not be more technology.

It may be turning the phone off.