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Hands-free mobiles as hazardous as handset use, study finds

New research has been published supporting the argument that talking on a hands-free phone while driving can be as distracting as talking on a handheld mobile.

Hands-free mobiles as hazardous as handset use, study finds

The research, published in the Transportation Research Journal, says that drivers who are engaged in conversation are less likely to spot and react to hazards.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Sussex, involved three groups of 20 volunteers watching films shot from the point of view of a road driver and tasked with spotting road hazards such as pedestrians stepping into the road or other vehicles pulling out. The first group was undistracted during the task and the second group was distracted by requests to agree or disagree with statements that required them to use mental imagery and the third group was tested with statements that did not require visualisation. The group members all had a minimum of ten years driving experience and were not aware of the purpose of the exercise.

Hazard detection and response times were best among the undistracted group and worst among those who were asked to answer questions that required visualisation. Eye tracking showed that those in the group that had to visualize were most prone to restricting their gaze to a small section of the road in front of them, reducing their hazard spotting capacity. 

“Telephone conversations may interfere with driving performance because the two tasks compete for similar processing resources, due to the imagery-evoking aspects of phone use,” say the authors.

In 2006, research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that up to 22% of crashes could be caused by driver distraction, and drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel are to three more times likely to have a crash.

The road charity Brake, which has previously called for the ban of hands-free mobile phones while driving has renewed its call for the government to restrict use of hands-free mobiles.

Lucy Amos, research adviser for the charity said: This new study is only the latest of many which adds weight to extending the existing legislation to cover all mobile phone use within a vehicle, not just the use of hand-held mobile devices. We call on the government to take action and remove the clear and present danger of mobile phones on our roads.”      


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  • Are we going to ban talking

    Permalink Submitted by Denise Baren on 8 June 2016 - 01:48 pm

    Are we going to ban talking to passengers and children as well? It is exactly the same distraction.

  • It would be good to compare

    Permalink Submitted by Robert on 8 June 2016 - 01:55 pm

    It would be good to compare this study with a study on the effects of listening to a radio broadcast that required visualising a situation and also the effect of conversations involving passengers in the vehicle before deciding to ban the use of hands free communication devices, there may be similar outcomes from these situations. Will drivers have to be sole occupants of vehicles in the future and refrain from listening to radio broadcasts to ensure adequate attention to the road conditions?

  • This is nothing new really,

    Permalink Submitted by Stuart Gemmell on 8 June 2016 - 01:59 pm

    This is nothing new really, but it is good to highlight it again. The issue of distraction in driving either through internal or external means is very well researched (including the risks of hands-free use) but oft ignored in risk management activity in terms of achieving effective influence on drivers not to use hands-free equipment. it is seen as socially acceptable both in individual as well as organisational terms and a challenging one to reverse.

  • From the information

    Permalink Submitted by Chris Packham on 8 June 2016 - 02:32 pm

    From the information available the study did not specifically study those actually speaking on a mobile phone. Questions were directed verbally at the test person. What is the difference then between a conversation on a hands-free mobile phone and a driver and a conversation between a passenger and a driver. There are many other distractions, e.g. having the radio on, two argumentative children in the back of the car, etc. Should we not then insist that every driver is protected from these by a physical shield between them and any such distraction?

  • Yes - I agree with the recent

    Permalink Submitted by Keith Hoyle on 8 June 2016 - 03:32 pm

    Yes - I agree with the recent research. I used to think differently until I was driving on the M1 and received a couple of calls which involved short discussions. Although I'd made the journey many times before I missed my junction and went on past a major motorway interchange and into the next county before realising the need to turn back! No harm done but it proved to me that hands-free phones DO reduce your concentration. I now switch off my mobile whilst driving and advise others to do so too. Nothing is so important that it can't wait a while.

  • Totally agree with the

    Permalink Submitted by N!K1969 on 9 June 2016 - 01:12 pm

    Totally agree with the sentiment, however distractions are, and always will be, an issue whilst controlling machinery. The ban on handheld mobiles needs to bite first - I see drivers flaunting this ban everyday. Fully autonomous cars are the only way to ensure safety by taking the human out of the loop.

  • A telephone conversation is

    Permalink Submitted by Gary B on 10 June 2016 - 04:10 pm

    A telephone conversation is nothing like a conversation with a passenger. On a phone conversation messages are delivered at a significantly higher pace, that is more words per minute. A passenger is aware of their environment and will often amend their conversation for example by not talking, or pausing their conversation as the driver negotiates a roundabout or road junction. A remote caller is unaware of road conditions and does not amend their speech pattern. Hence a phone conversation is a higher risk than a conversation with a passenger. There is a number of research papers outlining further reasons...

  • Again agreed with the

    Permalink Submitted by Midge on 12 June 2016 - 09:38 am

    Again agreed with the sentiments but should we not, as safety people be looking to minimize the distractions in the cab? Conversations, radios, etc. are all a part of everyday life and not something we can do much about. As employers though we can require that our employees do not use phones, handheld or handsfree, when driving on our behalf. In the oilfields of the Middle East this is a given and supported by dismissal if caught.

  • Anything can be distracting.

    Permalink Submitted by David Daniel on 13 June 2016 - 05:59 pm

    Anything can be distracting. We can't manage the whole world! Apart from in-car discussions, squabbling kids in the back seat and the radio, there's also the factor of distraction caused by unrelated stress and internal thoughts which also compete for brain-time.

    The moral has to be for the DRIVER to be aware of all of these factors and make sure that if they become excessive, he/she stops driving until they resolve. We can't ask Ms Nanny State to manage all these things for them and quite frankly even isolating the driver in a little box would not work as you can't isolate the driver from their internal thoughts.......

  • I ride a motorbike, which

    Permalink Submitted by Andrew Salmon on 3 March 2017 - 02:02 pm

    I ride a motorbike, which requires 100% concentration 100% of the time, so my phone is switched off or in a inaccessible pocket.Do these laws extend to police/ambulance motorcyclists for whom communication is a must? Or is there a training course that they attend? Is it possible to train your brain in such a way?


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