By Chuck Mai, AAA
I was sitting at a red light the other day in Oklahoma City when I chanced to sneak a peek at the woman in the car next to me. This is a dangerous thing for a married guy to do.
If you happen to make eye contact, she may think you’re looking for companionship or worse yet, that you want to rob her.
Luckily, she was looking straight ahead so I was able to see if she was talking on her mobile cellular telephone, which had been my objective in the first place.
Nope, no cell phone in her hand. That’s good, I thought. However, I did notice with some amusement that she was singing along with the radio. No, not singing exactly, talking – she was talking along with the radio. No, she was in fact talking to somebody on her hands-free cell phone.
I was seriously crest-fallen.
Somehow the myth that hands-free cell phones are safe has taken hold. In some parts of the country, hand-held cell phone use by drivers is illegal but hands-free is okay. This, my friends, is pure bunk. The dangerous part of using a cell phone while driving is not holding the phone, it’s holding the conversation.
Finally, good solid research has been done which backs me up.
A few years ago, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released the results of a study on cell phones and crash risks, concluding that “drivers using cell phones are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.”
The IIHS report says hands-free equipment did not reduce chances of injury to drivers. “Injury crash risk didn’t differ from one type of reported phone use to the other.”
This research reinforces results from studies at the University of Utah and at Virginia Tech University.
The message is clear: hands-free is not risk-free. Two-thirds of crashes in the IIHS study involved people on hands-free phones. The IIHS study also found the crash risk increases at similar rates across genders and ages. Male and female drivers and drivers younger and older than 30 all experienced about the same increase in risk from using a phone while behind-the-wheel.
Driving has never been riskier. More cars, more drivers, higher speeds. And, unfortunately, more distractions, of which cell phone use is only one of many.
All driver distractions need to be reduced: eating, drinking, smoking, adjusting the radio/CD player/iPod, checking on-board navigational devices, dealing with children and other passengers, looking at objects outside the car away from the roadway, etc.
Parents should be especially concerned about cell phone use by teenage drivers. Teens are inexperienced drivers who often fail to fully appreciate the dangers of multi-tasking on the road. A good parent-teen driving contract addresses these concerns. For a free downloadable copy, visit TeenDriving.AAA.com.