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Hang Up! Driving Hands-free Not Safer

Jun. 3, 2013|677 views
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Talking on a hands-free phone while driving significantly increases the odds you’ll make a mistake that could endanger lives, according to the results of a pilot study revealed late last month. Contrary to the popular belief that hands-free devices are safer for drivers, the study showed that talking on a hand-free device while driving is associated with a significant increase in driver errors compared to driving undistracted.


University of Alberta researchers found that taking on a hands-free device resulted in significantly more mistakes, such as crossing the center line, accelerating and decelerating erratically, and changing lanes without warning. Chatting while driving was also linked to increased brain activity, indicating heightened demand for oxygen in the brain during this “distracted condition”. It’s not that subjects were distracted by emotions. By design, participants avoided having emotionally charged conversations.  


Some municipalities have adopted or are considering laws prohibiting driving while talking on hand-held cell phones. There’s an entrenched assumption that handling a phone while driving contributes to driver error. But research clearly shows that hands-free devices are no solution to this serious problem. For example, Canadian researchers showed earlier this year that it’s virtually impossible to pay adequate attention to the task at hand while attempting to make a left-hand turn at a busy intersection if the driver is talking on a hands-free device at the same time. Another study concluded that conversing with passengers is less distracting than talking on a cell phone while driving.



Drews FA, Pasupathi M, Strayer DL. Passenger and Cell Phone Conversations in Simulated Driving. J Exp Psychol Appl. 2008 Dec;14(4):392-400. doi: 10.1037/a0013119.


Schweizer TA, Kan K, Hung Y, Tam F, Naglie G, Graham SJ. Brain activity during driving with distraction: an immersive fMRI study. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:53. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00053. Epub 2013 Feb 28.


University of Alberta (2013, May 24). Driving and hands-free talking lead to spike in errors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 27, 2013, from­ /releases/2013/05/130524160745.htm


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