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Myth busted: hands-free driving as dangerous as hand-held

Thursday, October 08, 2015

With our busy lives, it’s hard to spend even half an hour away from our smart phones. They’ve made us mobile and connected to the world around us at all times, but unfortunately, this means we end up texting or talking on them while driving, despite how hazardous it is. The ease and convenience of our mobile devices has introduced a new danger to our roads.

For years, we’ve all been advised to drive with a hands-free kit because they’re much safer than driving without one, right?

According to the popular TV show, Mythbusters, it seems that this long-held ‘fact’ is wrong.

It started with the premise that it’s a myth that hands-free and hand-held are equally as dangerous. The two presenters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, devised a basic test – they both drove a course twice each, once holding a cell phone while talking, and once using a hands-free kit. The results of this mini experiment showed that the one activity was indeed as dangerous as the other. But a two-person experiment doesn’t provide conclusive evidence, so they enlisted the help of Stanford University’s hi-tech Automotive Innovation Facility.

They tested 30 drivers, 15 of which did the course with a hands-free kit, and 15 holding a cell phone. The test subjects were required to navigate a simulated course by obeying instructions from a GPS, all while talking on the phone.

The results of this second test confirmed the original one – hands-free is no safer:

Of the hand-held group, one person passed, five didn’t follow the GPS instructions and went the wrong way, while nine crashed. The hands-free group fared no better: one person passed, six went the wrong way, while eight people crashed.

Statically, this means that there is no difference between driving hands-free and driving with a phone in your hand – they are equally distracting.

Head of Dialdirect Insurance, Warwick Scott-Rodger, had this to say on the results of the test:

“Some will say that the one group of drivers was simply better at multitasking than the other.”
He went on to say, “We can also argue at length about the obvious benefits of having both hands on the wheel. Fundamentally, both hand-held and hands-free devices split your attention between having a conversation and driving, and endanger the lives of both you and other motorists.”

This experiment, conducted by the Mythbusters team, has even more serious implications when considered with another experiment they did on whether or not driving while talking on a cell phone is as dangerous as driving intoxicated; their results suggest that they are potentially equally perilous. Although only two members of the show’s team were used as test subjects, it does raise some questions about just how risky it is to drive while talking or texting.

“At Dialdirect, we understand that people tend to resort to risky behaviour, like using your cell phone while driving, is because we have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in,” says Scott-Rodger.

It is indeed difficult to undertake to never answer a phone call or send a text message while driving because the convenience these devices offer is so appealing, particularly when you have precious little time to spare in your busy schedule. Indeed, a lack of time is cited as one of the main reasons why South Africans can’t seem to put their phones down while driving. So to help you stay phone-free while driving, we’ve put together some tips to keep you and other road users safe:

• Lock your phone in the boot; you can’t use it if you can’t get to it.

• Divert calls to voicemail while you’re driving.

• Pull over to the side of the road or stop at a petrol station if you need to make an urgent call.

Research has shown that the better people think they are at multitasking while driving, the worse they are at it in reality. So the next time you want to reach for your phone in the car remind yourself that, firstly, you’re probably not as good at texting and driving as you think you are, and secondly, it takes only a split second lapse in concentration to cause an accident.

These tips might mean losing a few extra minutes from your busy schedule, but as the saying goes, “Better late than never.” And just think of the precious time you’d use claiming for insurance if you’re in an accident due to distracted driving.