Is Hands-Free Driving Safe

Cell phones are an amazing piece of technology that has, without a doubt, improved our lives dramatically. We can stay connected with friends and family on the other side of the world, we can share our lives with the touch of a button, we can find the products or services we need with ease, and all of it fits in the palm of our hands.

The use of mobile phones has greatly influenced how we live. True enough, phones have improved the way we communicate and have made our lives more convenient—nonetheless, cell phones when driving pose great danger. Calling, texting, and using cell phones for other purposes while driving are some of the leading causes of vehicle crashes and other traffic accidents.

Of course, while we love our phones, it’s also a bit of a concern that we struggle so much to put them down. It goes beyond simply distracted interactions with people we love; instead, in this case, it means distracted driving that can cause accidents and fatalities. In 2013 alone, over 430,000 people were injured in accidents that involved distracted drivers. Among eating, grooming, and even watching videos while driving, texting, which involves visual and cognitive awareness, is by far the most alarming.

Driving and cell phone laws in the United States vary from state to state. In some places, it’s okay to use your phone while operating a vehicle, while others forbid texting while driving, but phone calls are OK.

What’s our opinion on the matter? Well, distracted driving is distracted driving. Any defensive driving class will emphasize the need to pay attention to everything around you and to reassess constantly, and that can’t happen when you’ve got a phone in your hand. Anything at all that requires you to think about something else while you’re behind the wheel is putting you, your passengers, and other drivers at risk.

What About Hands-Free Driving?

The answer for many states to the talking or texting while driving dilemma has been to allow hands-free use. At first, it sounds like a reasonable compromise. Many cars have this feature enabled, allowing drivers to make calls simply from a verbal command. Our phones have become such an integral part of our lives. From giving us directions to where we’re going to having all of the music we want in one place, the ability to access all of this without holding the phone is a tremendous step in the right direction.

But in some ways, it still poses a problem that defensive driving or driver’s ed classes might not cover. That is mental distraction.

Aside from texting, making phone calls, and answering them, smartphones allow us to simultaneously do other things while we’re behind the wheel, not knowing that mental distractions are as harmful as manual and visual distractions. Even if a mental distraction does not necessarily require you to do something while driving actively, it can be more dangerous. Mentally distracted drivers have slower reaction times, are unaware of their surroundings, and have lesser brain activity to focus on driving. Although you don’t have to fumble around with your phone to get your music playing or to make a call to someone, a hands-free set requires you to speak a command to do the same action. It allows you to keep your eyes on the road, but it still requires your mental capacity. This kind of distraction still falls under the “distracted driving” category.

It’s been proven that mental distractions can prevent motorists from picking up on environmental cues like stop signs, pedestrians, or other cars. And distractions don’t last for a fleeting moment; in some cases, they can last for nearly half of a minute after the command is made.

VIDEO: Is Hands-Free Driving Really Safer?

Minimizing Mental Distraction With Hands-Free Devices

The good news is that engineers and car manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to improve their automotive, including minimizing the potential for distractions caused by voice-activated technology. Unfortunately, not all hands-free devices are created equal—some are incredibly complex, others are not accurate, and some still spend much longer on certain tasks than other simpler technologies. 

Voice command and hands-free features unintentionally create a false sense of safety. It may make it easier for you to multitask. Still, it is not risk-free. Motorists get more distracted and frustrated when the voice command system receives the wrong voice instructions. Although hands-free and voice command devices can be effective and practical, it still shows a more unsatisfactory driving performance than driving only. Studies show a consistent delay in information processing for drivers who use hands-free features.

The end goal is to have no more demanding systems than listening to the radio or a podcast in the car and nothing more. In an ideal world, policymakers, safety advocates, and technology developers would all be on the same page and produce the best tech in every car and with every device.

Until then, though, the best thing to do is minimize the use of voice-based technologies while operating a vehicle. It’s convenient and perfectly understandable that you’d use it from time to time, but don’t make it a habit while driving. To avoid the need for this technology:

  • Prepare your directions before putting the car in drive. If you don’t know how to get to your destination, get in the car and prep your GPS before taking off. It’s a simple step that will allow you to drive with confidence!

  • Put your phone on silent. Especially if you’re driving short distances, will a matter of 15 or 20 minutes really matter? Anyone who calls you can text or leave a voicemail, and you’ll be able to get back to them (safely) relatively soon after their initial call.

  • Get your music ready. Like you can prepare the directions to your destination, start a playlist once you get in the car. If you’re particularly picky about your music, spend some time every week or month creating new playlists to keep you in a good mood rather than a restless one while driving.

  • Pullover. If you have to make a call or accept one, by far, your safest option is to pull the car over before answering. Unless it’s a long, emotional phone call, you’ll likely be able to finish things up quickly without wasting much time getting to where you want to go. And, chances are, if it’s a long emotional phone call, you won’t want to take it while you’re behind the wheel!

  • Ask passengers for assistance. If you have someone else in the car with you, see if they can help you in any way. Do you need directions somewhere, or is it important to make a quick call home? Whatever the case, one of your passengers will likely be more than happy to lend a hand and take care of the task for you.
  • Stay Alert. Don’t be complacent, especially when driving on familiar roads. Driver’s tend to go on autopilot when taking their usual routes. There is a recent study in the UK wherein 3 out of 10 road crashes happen within a mile from the driver’s residence.