Hands-Free Phone Law Might Not Increase Safety

By Jordan Weinstein

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Jan. 27, 2012

texting while driving

The Legislature is debating a bill that would require drivers to use hands-free devices if they want to talk on the phone. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

 
BOSTON — If you’re like most drivers, you’ve heard that driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone is dangerous. Maybe you’ve switched to a hands-free phone because you’ve heard it’s safer. You’re in good company: On Jan. 26 the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation unanimously passed a bill that would only allow the use of hands-free cell phones on Bay State roads.

Proponents like Mass. Rep. Joseph Wagner of Chicopee say the move is just “common sense.” But is it?
 
David Teater, senior director of transportation at the National Safety Council, said that in this case, common sense is wrong.
  
"There's over 30 different, good, solid, peer-reviewed studies that have looked at this and not a single study has been able to come up with any safety benefit or enhancement by using a hands-free phone," Teater said.
 
It's substantially different from talking to a passenger, he said. First, it takes more brainpower to hold a conversation with someone you can't see; second, the person on the other end of the phone doesn't stop talking (and possibly gasp) when another driver darts in front.
 
Teater said, "By requiring drivers to use a hands-free device the only thing we're doing, the only thing we're changing is putting one hand back on the wheel — and we've been driving manual transmissions for years."

Read a dissenting view.

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