You’re not breaking the law if you use a hands free kit to talk on the phone whilst driving. However, an increasing body of research is indicating that using a hands free kit could be just as dangerous as using your mobile phone behind the wheel. The level of distraction that using a hands free kit causes is at the centre of the issue.
This is especially true if you are having a conversation which is particularly distracting. Research has also shown that you visualise the person you are speaking to while you are on the phone. Doing so takes even more of your attention away from the road.
The potential dangers associated with using a hands free kit when driving have been brought into the spotlight recently due to a woman being found guilty of killing a motorcyclist while she was using a hands free kit to speak to a friend. Although this was not necessarily the sole reason for the collision, it was highlighted as causing a distraction that could have led to her car drifting across the road.
The driver in question said that she had hit a pothole or a verge, which had caused her to lose control of her vehicle. However, accident investigators found no signs of a pothole or any evidence that she had even tried to brake before hitting the motorcyclist, who died at the scene.
Despite having your eyes on the road when using a hands free kit, it is likely that you won-t be as alert as you would be if you were focused entirely on driving. This can slow your response times to any hazards that might present themselves during your journey. As such, it is always safer to pull over and have your conversation, especially if you are finding it distracting.
It is not only hands free kits which have been found to distract motorists from the task at hand. The safety of using high-tech dashboards has been called into question too, following research carried out by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The research looked at how long it takes drivers to perform certain activities on their high-tech dashboard. It produced plenty of interesting data, including the fact that it takes around 40 seconds to program an in-built sat-nav, which is a long time for a driver’s attention to be taken away from the road ahead.
Other high-tech dashboard features that were tested were sending a text message and searching for something on the internet, both of which caused a high level of distraction. Even tuning the radio or making a phone call caused a moderate distraction.
When a driver takes their eyes off of the road for just two seconds, they double their chance of crashing their vehicle. Distractions are partly to blame for 11% of all fatal crashes.
The AAA is pushing for auto manufacturers to start creating systems that don’t distract drivers any more than tuning a radio or listening to an audiobook does. One solution they have proposed is to lock certain high-tech dashboard features when the car is in motion, to prevent the driver from being tempted to use them.
The value of education
Educating drivers about the dangers of using technology at the wheel would certainly help. Perfectly legal technology can cause sufficient distraction to bring about a fatal crash, yet many drivers assume that because the technology is legal, it isn’t dangerous. It can be easy to feel in control despite your focus being elsewhere, even just for a few seconds. Breaking down the assumption that if tech is built into the car it is perfectly safe to use while driving is essential for improving the safety of our roads, particularly as vehicles continue to include more and more high-tech systems.
As research continues, it could well be that we see the use of hands free kits join the use of mobile phones in terms of what is banned behind the wheel. Doing so would certainly help to prevent accidents and make the UK’s roads safer.
Do you use a hands free kit while driving? Do you feel particularly distracted while doing so? Leave a comment to share your views.