From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

New Study: Hands Free Mobile Phone No Safer When Driving

Retailers of hands-free cell phone kits like to point out that driving with a cell phone in one hand and the steering wheel in the other is dangerous folly. The implication is that using the hands-free kind isn’t. New research undermines their selling point. A review of studies into the ergonomic and psychological issues of using a cell phone behind the wheel, it concludes that when it comes to driving safety, there is no difference between hands-free and hands-on cell phone use by drivers.

After reviewing relevant non-driving studies, simulated driving and field driving research and epidemiological studies, Yoko Ishigami and Raymond Klein of Dalhousie University in Canada concluded that any type of cell phone use detracts from the brain’s ability to focus on safe driving. The authors reported in the Journal of Safety Research of the National Safety Council (NSC) that regardless of phone type, cell phone use behind the wheel has negative impacts on performance, particularly in detecting and identifying events. The studies indicated that drivers compensate for the deleterious effects of cell phone use when using a handheld phone, but neglected to do so when using a hands-free phone.

The studies also indicated that hands-free and hands-on cell phone use by drivers causes more accidents and driving errors, impairs reaction times and slows down overall vehicle speeds. While vehicle speed tends to decline for drivers using any type of cell phones, those with hand-held phones generally showed the most decline. The authors suggested that slowing down can be a compensatory behavior to maintain safety when confronting possible challenges to it. “Drivers may have slowed down more when talking on a hand-held phone because they were more aware of the mental and physical load imposed on them,” they wrote.

Cell phone use behind the wheel is a growing problem. A study from the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis estimates that cell phone use while driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes, which equates to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths each year. The study also put the annual financial toll of cell phone-related crashes at $43 billion.

The NSC describes itself as saving lives “by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the roads, through leadership, research, education and advocacy.” In January it became the first national organization to call for a total ban on cell phones.

National Safety Council; “Is a hands-free phone safer than a handheld phone?” by Ishigami, Yoko ; Klein,  Raymond M.; Journal of Safety Research; Volume 40, Issue 2,  2009.