Distracted driving results in thousands of fatalities every year. Although a variety of objects and activities are capable of distracting otherwise attentive drivers, cell phones have proven especially problematic. Some drivers believe that they can enjoy cell phone conversations behind the wheel and remain perfectly safe with the help of hands-free devices. But do these cell phone alternatives actually make drivers safer? Or do they simply foster the illusion of safety?

Benefits Of Hands Free Mobile Phones

There is no denying that cell phone use behind the wheel contributes to distracted driving. Many drivers believe, however, that the source of distraction is not the phone conversation itself, but rather, the act of typing in a number and then holding a device while driving with a single hand on the wheel. A hands free mobile phone can minimize such issues, allowing drivers to make calls without ever taking their eyes off the road or their hands off the steering wheel.

Thus far, the implementation of laws banning hands-on phones behind the wheel appears to have had an impact in select regions. An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study indicated that, following the Washington D.C. enactment of a law banning use of hands-on mobile phones while driving, collision claims decreased by approximately five percent. (1) However, in other states, such laws have failed to significantly change crash rates. The key may be in enforcement, with regions proactively enforcing cell phone driving laws seeing greater reductions in accidents and fatalities.

How Hands Free Phones May Impede Safe Driving

Although a hands free mobile phone can prove useful in certain contexts, it also has the potential to be every bit as big a distraction as a standard mobile device. According to a University of Alabama, Birmingham study, the difference between driving with a standard cell phone and a hands free setup is negligible. (2) Researchers analyzed accident and traffic citations for college students who claimed to use hands free phones and those who used handheld devices in general. Both types of students were equally likely to wind up in car accidents. However, study participants with hands free devices did receive fewer speeding tickets and general traffic citations than those with ordinary cell phones.

The main issue with hands free phones is that they fail to address the true problem surrounding cell phone use while driving: an inability to keep the mind focused on the road. Research indicates that it does not matter whether the device is in the driver's hand or attached to a headset; the mere act of chatting on the phone diverts the driver's attention, making it impossible to be fully aware of his or her surroundings.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to use a hands free mobile phone comes down to the driver and the nature of local cell phone regulations. The use of a hands free mobile phone may reduce the likelihood of being pulled over, but it is not likely to prevent accidents. For the vast majority of drivers, the best solution for safe driving is to avoid all use of cell phones behind the wheel.


1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/29/AR2010012900053.html

2. http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20100813/hands-free-headsets-dont-improve-driving-safety