Many states have outlawed the use of handheld wireless phones and other devices while driving, causing an increasing number of drivers to switch to hands-free accessories as a means to stay connected when behind the wheel. They believe that by using an ear piece or a microphone system installed into the vehicle that they can safely talk, text or check social media and email while driving.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. A recent study sponsored by the American Automobile Association found that using hands-free technology, such as voice recognition software to send text messages, is just as distracting as manually sending a text message. Researchers believe that using hands-free technology impairs the cognitive processes necessary to process the visual and auditory clues that are vital to safe driving. In other words, while your eyes may be looking at the road and not your phone, your brain is still engaged with what is on the phone — and not on the road. Considering that in the time it takes to read — or hear — the average text message (4.6 seconds) you can drive the equivalent of a football field at 55 miles per hour, anything that diverts your attention away from driving increases the likelihood of a serious crash.
Hands-Free Technology More Commonplace
Despite the fact that hands-free technology has been proven to be as dangerous as holding a phone behind the wheel, carmakers and technology companies continue to add gadgets to new vehicle models, often in the name of safety. Many newer vehicles come fully equipped with hands-free devices that allow drivers to access and control technology while driving.
Adding this technology may seem helpful, but it also makes the roads fraught with danger. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the number of accidents related to distracted driving increased by nine percent between 2011 and 2012, and 421,000 people were injured as a result. Almost half of those accidents involved drivers using hands-free devices.
Solving the Problem
Most drivers are aware of the risk inherent in using technology, whether handheld or hands-free, while driving, but a significant percentage ignores the warnings and continues to do so. Consequently, some experts are calling for restrictions on the use of hands-free devices. Among them is AAA, which recommends that such technology be programmed to only allow use when the vehicle is stopped.
Responsible drivers should not wait for a legal dictate before limiting their use of electronics in the car. To avoid liability if you experience a serious car accident, you should:
- Avoid using electronic devices while driving, both handheld and hands-free.Turn off your phone or place it out of reach. This way, you will not be tempted to make or receive calls and messages while driving.
- Enable your device’s automatic response system when you are driving. Most in-vehicle systems allow drivers to program an outgoing message notifying callers that they are driving and will respond when it is safe to do so.
- Manage your navigation system only when the car is parked. If you are lost, find a safe place to pull over and set the destination.
- Educate your children about the dangers of distracted driving. Younger drivers have a higher percentage of distraction-related crashes.
States and municipalities have enacted laws regarding the use of wireless devices for the safety of all drivers. Understand the dangers, and realize that hands-free does not equal distraction-free.