Hands-Free Phones are Just as Risky as Handsets, Research Says

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You may be aware of the dangers of driving and texting, using mobile apps, or talking with a handset. But did you know that just talking--even on a hands-free device, such as a Bluetooth headset--is too distracting for most drivers?

New research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that talking on a phone, whether you're using a handset or a hands-free device, is just too distracting.

"There is a large body of evidence showing that talking on a phone, whether handheld or hands-free, impairs driving and increases your risk of having a crash," says Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, according to the Associated Press.

This is why the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Tuesday that all states should ban the use of electronic devices while driving, including hands-free phone kits. This ban was suggested after the NTSB reviewed a recent crash inMissouri that killed two people and injured 38. In the crash, the driver of a truck sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before crashing into a large tractor-trailer rig. The crash caused a multicar pileup, which included a bus.

While the suggested ban (the NTSB cannot enact laws on its own, it can only make suggestions) would include hands-free kits for phones, it would not includeGPSunits and other electronics that "assist in the driving process." You'd also be covered if you used your phone in an emergency situation, such as to report an accident or a drunk driver. However, it would be up to individual law enforcement officers to determine whether a situation was an emergency.

It should be noted that what the research really shows is that there's no evidence that someone using a hands-free device has a lower risk of crashing than someone using a handset. According to the AP, a similar study inSwedenshowed the same thing: "There is no evidence suggesting that hands-free mobile phone use is less risky than handheld use."

However, this doesn't necessarily translate into "cellphones are dangerous." The AP points out that there is no hard evidence that accidents are increasing because of phone use--in fact, last year highway fatalities in the United States hit a record low--the lowest since 1949.

In March 2010, a study from the Universityof Utahshowed that while most people are really bad at multitasking, there are a few "supertaskers" who can drive safely while talking on a hands-free phone. However, the study found that a measly 2.5 percent of the population is supertaskers, while the rest of us are just (really bad) multitaskers.

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