Driving and Your Phone: Is Hands-Free Risk-Free?

Salespeople and sales managers spend a lot of time on the phone. And we spend a lot of time driving.

The invention of the cell phone meant we could talk on the phone while we drove – in fact, the first cellular phones were promoted as “car phones.”

As crash data came in to highway safety experts and insurance companies, it became clear that hand-held cell phones were creating a real danger on the roads. Now, some states ban driving while using a hand-held phone, and other state legislatures are considering doing the same.

Hand-free systems were expected to take care of this problem. If both hands are on the wheel, you should be able to talk on the phone and drive safely, right?

Salespeople are distracted drivers

Photo by Ivanko80


A series of studies have demonstrated talking on the phone with a hands-free device is just as dangerous as using a hand-held device.

Scientists at the University of Sussex, in a driving-simulation study with 60 volunteers, found that drivers who were engaged in conversation with an out-of-car voice took longer to respond to events such as a pedestrian stepping off the curb or the appearance of an unexpected vehicle.

The study indicated that such “conversations can cause the driver to visually imagine what they are talking about. This uses a part of the brain normally used to watch the road.”

Dr. Graham Hole of the University of Sussex put it this way: “The only safe phone in a car is one that’s switched off.”

The Washington Post brought in Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of the Mythbusters show to test the idea. Here’s what they found:

“In a simulation involving 30 drivers, exactly two managed to pass a driving test while talking on a cellphone. No surprise there.

But then it got interesting. Of the 15 drivers using handsets: one passed, five failed by driving the wrong way and nine failed by crashing.

Of the 15 talking hands-free: one passed, six failed by driving the wrong way, and eight failed by crashing.

[Watch the video here.]

The statistical difference, the MythBusters said, is negligible. It is no safer to use a hands-free device while driving than it is to use a handset…

…The National Safety Council says the issue is more mental than physical. Drivers talking on a cellphone, the organization says, can overlook up to 50 percent of what’s around them while looking out the windshield. And activity in the area of the brain that processes moving images is reduced by up to a third when talking or listening to the phone while driving.”

Other studies indicate that voice-operated text messaging is just as dangerous as typing out the text as you drive. And as more new cars have rolled off the assembly lines with these devices, crashes nationwide have risen. So have auto insurance rates.

What does this mean for us as salespeople?

We may believe that we’re the exceptions – that we can safely drive while talking hands-free on the phone.

We’re not, and we can’t.

The only safe phone in your car is one that’s switched off.

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4 thoughts on “Driving and Your Phone: Is Hands-Free Risk-Free?

    • Some studies indicate that listening to the radio can also cause problems when the driver looks down to change the station or is listening closely for specific information. This article discusses the issue.

      But the radio’s also been part of the automobile for 70 years or so; crash numbers took a significant jump when the cell phone showed up, which means the phone is a problem separate from and more severe than the radio.

    • A lot of the new cars (we have one) allow drivers to text by voice via CarPlay or bluetooth. A voice reads texts you receive out loud, and you can reply and send by voice. People who use this feature believe that it’s safe.

      They’re wrong.

      Same situation as using the phone — it takes your mind off the road.