New Hands-Free Law Does Little for Driving Safety or Driving Fears

by on January 23, 2013

Texting and driving

People want what they want when they want it and it appears California drivers want to increase their chances of getting in a car crash. A new law that went into effect in 2013 lets motorists use their mobile devices while driving if they use a headset. Other states already have similar laws that permit chatting, but TheAtlanticCities.com says the California law also lets drivers send and receive email and text messages provided the messages are read to them on a voice-activated system.

Since their hands are on the wheel, drivers must be safe, right? Wrong.

If someone is cruising down the road sending or receiving messages of any type they are dividing the focus of their brain into separate activities. Even if the driver dons a headset, the brain is still not focused fully on the road, a state of mind that does not bode well for driving safety but can do very well for escalating driving fears. And those driving fears come with good reason. 

And Now Some Evidence

Information from Distraction.gov, which is the “official U.S. government website for distracted driving,” points out various hazardous facts:

  • Taking your eyes off the road for a scant 4.6 seconds, which is the typical times it takes to receive a text, may not seem like a lot. If the driver happens to be going at 55 mph, however, that is the entire length of a football field, which is how far the driver would be going without nary a glance at anything in front of him or her.
  • Using a head set “is not substantially safer” than using a hand-held device. They both put the driver, the passengers, other drivers, other passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, stray dogs and anyone or anything else at a higher risk of getting injured or killed.
  • The old adage says humans only use 10 percent of their brains. Cell phone use while driving reduces that brain activity even further, according to Carnegie Mellon. It decreases brain activity meant for driving by 37 percent. Put the two percentages together and you’re using a mere sliver of the brain to drive down the road while on a cell phone.
  • A notable 11 percent of all fatal crashes on the road involve drivers under age 20 who were distracted while driving.

More Evidence

Additional evidence comes from TheAtlanticCities.com article in the form of several studies by the University of Utah’s David Strayer and colleagues. For starters, talking on a hands-free device is not the same as talking to passengers in the vehicle. Talking to passengers is often interrupted by or includes discussions on traffic and road conditions. Hands-free chatting takes the brain far away from the road.

“Even sending a voice text as simple as ‘I’m stuck in traffic’ led drivers in the study to glance off the road more often and longer than usual,” the articles said, “and they too reported a higher mental demand during” the part of the test that involved sending a message. But, as the article also noted, people seem to be ignoring the evidence in favor of convenience, and possibly even trying to ignore the driving fears this and similar laws can bring.

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