NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) says distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on America’s roadways. At any moment 9 percent of drivers are talking on a cell phone. 26 percent of crashes involved being distracted on a phone including on “hands-free.”
In 2018 2,841 people were killed in distracted driving crashes (1,730 drivers, 605 passengers, 400 pedestrians and 77 bicyclists). This is a lower number than previous years but could still be reduced.
Many states in the U.S. have laws regulating the use of mobile devices while driving. Some laws only include some drivers (like commercial drivers or bus drivers). Most laws affect all drivers. Some laws target handheld devices only, while other laws affect both handheld and hands-free devices. For instance in our state of Colorado all drivers are prohibited from texting or being on the internet but driver’s under the age of 18 are also prohibited from driving and talking on a cell phone.
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We all know texting is dangerous while driving. Your hands are off the wheel and your eyes are off the road. But texting entails more than a manual or visual distraction. It is also a cognitive distraction.
Talking on the phone is also a distraction. While talking you can remain looking at the road and in hands-free mode you can keep your hands on the wheel, there is still that cognitive distraction aspect. Even talking hands free on the phone is a dangerous distraction.
Vision is the most important sense for safe driving. Yet, drivers talking on phones, including those using hands-free phones, have a tendency to “look at” but not “see” objects, according to the National Safety Council. The National Safety Council has compiled studies and reports by scientists around the world to compare driver performance with handheld and hands-free phones and found hands-free phones offer no safety benefit when driving. They go into detail about this and how multitasking is a myth in this paper.
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We originally published this post in April 2014. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness and with an updated inforgraph.