Everybody knows that texting is one of the most dangerous things you can do while driving. That’s why it’s against the law in 44 states. And there are also a growing number of states now prohibiting people from talking on their cell phones while driving. This has led to an explosion in the manufacture and purchase of hands-free devices like Bluetooth headsets that enable drivers to keep both hands on the wheel while fielding phone calls from friends, family and co-workers. Currently, 12 states prohibit drivers from using a hand-held phone while driving and have made it mandatory to wear a headset for those who insist on yapping while cruising. But is talking on a headset while you’re driving as safe as you think it is?
Studies tell us that there isn’t much of a difference at all in the level of distraction that drivers using hands-free devices experience versus those using a hand-held device. In one University of Utah study performed in 2006, it was found that there was zero difference. To top it off, study results also showed that test drivers operating under the influence of alcohol were actually less likely to have an accident than those talking on the phone.
If that’s not enough to scare you into turning off your phone when you slide behind the wheel, there are even more statistics that back up the fact that hands-free driving isn’t as safe as you may have been led to believe. The National Safety Council says that talking while driving (either hands-free or otherwise) accounted for 1.1 million crashes in 2010 – or 21 percent of all accidents that year.
Many people argue that talking on the phone with a Bluetooth headset is no different than talking with the person seated in the car next to you. But there are others who theorize that talking on the phone creates a cognitive impairment strong enough to make you a danger behind the wheel without even realizing it.
It makes sense when you think about it – when you’re chatting with someone in the passenger seat, you also pick up on gestures and other non-verbal cues that make communication all the more effortless. But when you’re simply using your voice to talk to someone who’s not there, it requires a bit more thinking to get your message across and “read” the other person accurately. For more on that, check out this report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).