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While driving, hands-free devices are no less distracting

One look around the streets of New York City is all it takes to realize that distracted drivers are an accident waiting to happen. Whether they’re texting, talking on a cellphone or trying to program a GPS device, drivers who aren’t focused on the road put themselves and others at significant risk for a distracted driving accident.

Most states have outlawed texting, and New York is one of only about a dozen states that have banned the use of handheld cellphones as well. But are hands-free devices any safer? If you ask the majority of Americans, the answer would be “yes.” If you consult numerous study results, however, the answer would be “no.”

There are at least 30 studies showing that cellphone conversations behind the wheel are equally dangerous whether the driver is using a handheld cellphone or a hands-free device. This is because the driver’s brain is distracted by the conversation, even if their hands aren’t busy holding the phone.

If you didn’t know that hands-free devices were just as dangerous, you are not alone. A group called the National Safety Council recently conducted a national poll. The results revealed that 80 percent of Americans believe hands-free devices are, in fact, safer than handheld cellphones.

Automakers are contributing to the misconception. Many new vehicles now come with “infotainment” systems. In addition to touch-screen dashboards offering a variety of entertainment features, drivers can often wirelessly sync their phone with the car and make calls, send texts and emails using voice commands. Approximately 53 percent of those who took the NSC poll said they believe hands-free devices are safe, in part, because they are being installed in new cars.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. And while there are many safety issues to consider when addressing the problem of distracted driving, the NSC is trying to send the message that “Hands-free is not risk-free.” Apparently, that is a message more Americans need to hear.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Why Hands-Free Cell Phones Are Not Safer: Safety Council," April 15, 2014

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