Hands-Free? No, Brain-Free

It seemed kind of obvious to me but when all the country did away with handheld cell phones in the car being legal and only allowing hands-free ones, that it really didn't make much of a difference.

Hands-free?  That's brain-free.

It's not the holding the phone that's the problem.  It's the thinking while you're on the phone. Who hasn't been distracted by a phone call (or, God forbid, a text) when driving?  I have all I can do just to keep my mind on my driving, as that's the time I free float and often get ideas for stories.  No way can I talk and drive at the same time.

My husband, on the other hand, does it all the time (and has been ticketed in NYC).  He doesn't believe in laws (or medicine, but that's another story), and so he continues to get tickets for not wearing a seat belt, talking on his handheld phone and other expensive habits he really should discontinue.

But getting back to the phone, a new study says the hands-free ones are anything but safe.  According to newswise.com, driving while talking on a hands-free phone can be just as distracting as talking on a hand-held mobile, psychologists at the University of Sussex say.

The study found that drivers having conversations which sparked their visual imagination detected fewer road hazards than those who didn’t. They also focused on a smaller area of the road ahead of them and failed to see hazards, even when they looked directly at them. This shows the risks of even hands-free phone conversations.

The researchers found that conversations may use more of the brain’s visual processing resources than previously understood. Having a conversation which requires the driver to use his visual imagination creates competition for the brain’s processing capacity, which results in driver sees in front of them on the road.

“Our findings have implications for real-life mobile phone conversations. The person at the other end of the phone might ask “where did you leave the blue file?," causing the driver to mentally search a remembered room. The driver may also simply imagine the facial expression of the person he's talking to.

“Clearly this research isn’t a green light to use hand-held mobile phones while driving, however," the researchers say. "The use of hand-held phones was made illegal primarily because they interfere with vehicle control; but our study adds to a mounting body of research showing that both hand-held and hands-free phones are dangerously distracting for drivers. The only ‘safe’ phone in a car is one that's switched off."

 You may not agree with that but it's certainly been my experience.  I think I'm just going to take my husband's phone away.


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