Hands-free Celphones Do Not Aid Safety

12 Jul ’05

I’ve now seen multiple references over the past few months to research on this point. The latest is a study in the British Medical Journal that is summarized in an article in the NYT today. The message seems quite clear: it’s not about the diversion of focus from the car and road to the device, the distraction is the conversation:

“There just doesn’t seem to be any safety benefit by restricting drivers to hands-free phones,” said Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “It’s the cognitive overload that sometimes occurs when you’re engaging in a conversation that is the source of the distraction more so than the manipulation of the device.”

What’s perhaps most odd about this research is how unnecessary it is – any driver knows, intuitively, that this is true.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Hugo July 13, 2005 at 10:37

And with more and more phones combining tiny bluetooth headsets with voice recognition, it’s easy to talk without flashing the phone to the police! I think we’re stuck with it…

Thanks for the blog BTW. And thanks to IT Business for pointing it to me. Ciao.


Rob Hyndman July 13, 2005 at 10:05

All agreed, Hugo. I wonder though whether any law on this will be enforceable if it isn’t absolute – ie a “bright line”. I suspect that any wiggle room would simply make enforcement too difficult ….


Hugo July 12, 2005 at 12:34

There, I corrected that funny Huo, with a Hugo. Maybe still funny but I’m used to it!

I still think that good sense should prevail and that an intelligent driver can manage a cell phone in the car if he can manage other distractions. Good sense dictates that you don’t have to take calls while driving, voice mail and other gizmos allow you to manage your incoming calls, at the very least a handfree set allows you to answer an important call and tell the caller your busy. If you need to make a call, just park. Common sense really, like don’t eat your dinner while driving at 120 km/h!

Just as we won’t go back to a horse and buggy, cell phones will stay in cars forever, we just need to learn how to you use them in a safe way.

But you’re right, if a government has the guts to ban them in cars, I’ll adapt in the blink of an eye. But don’t take that radio away from me!


Rob Hyndman July 12, 2005 at 12:02

Surely that’s not the point, Huo. There’s no question that no distraction is a good distraction. There’s also no question that if one can’t carry kids or other adults one might as well ride a horse and buggy.

Phones are different. We lived without them in cars perfectly well before they were invented. No reason why we can’t do the same now.


Hugo July 12, 2005 at 11:55

It is quite clear indeed and I agree with your conclusion. I’ll add that given that, if we want to ban cell phones from cars, we should also ban radios, kids and other passengers unless they have duct tape over their mouths.


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