Are Hands-Free Devices Safe to Use While Driving?

Man holding phone as he drives

In recent years, the dangers of distracted driving have become well known. Numerous studies and advocacy groups have helped push the message that driving while distracted can significantly increase crash risks and lead to preventable car accidents that injure or kill others. Additionally, and despite these efforts, statistics show that over 3,170 people were killed and more than 431,000 were injured in traffic accidents involving a distracted motorist in 2014 alone.

California Distracted Driving Laws

Because texting and placing calls on a cell phone are considered among the most dangerous forms of distracted driving, states across the country have passed laws that explicitly prohibit drivers from using cell phones, whether for handheld use, hands-free use, or both, when behind the wheel.

In California, the following laws apply:

  • Text messaging and the use of handheld devices, including phones, is prohibited for all drivers
  • Bus drivers are prohibited from using cell phones – both handheld use and hands-free use.
  • Novice drivers are prohibited from using cell phones – both handheld use and hands-free use.

As the law makes clear, handheld use of cell phones is banned for all motorists, regardless of their age. As such, many drivers turn to hands-free devices because they are legal and considered safer to use than a handheld phone. Although hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth or headset devices, are considered safer than handheld cell phones, it is important to understand that hands-free devices are not risk-free.

Hands-Free Devices are Still Sources of Behind-the-Wheel Distraction

According to numerous studies, including one from the National Safety Council, hands-free devices do entail some risks when it comes to increasing the chances of driver distraction and auto accidents. This is because hands-free devices still mean a driver is having a conversation with another person or multiple people, which creates a cognitive distraction (although it does limit visual and manual distraction compared to handheld use).

Cognitive distraction alone, the National Safety Council reports, can still negatively affect the way motorists drive and how they may respond to certain stimulus, including the need to quickly brake or maneuver a vehicle to avoid a crash. This is because drivers who talk on a hands-free device can overlook as much as 50% of their surroundings. Conversing on the phone also limits activity in the part of the brain responsible for processing moving images by up to a third.

Hands-Free vs. Holding a Phone Risks

Hands-free devices may be considered safer than the alternative of using your hand to hold and operate a phone or to send a text message, but it does not fully eliminate risks. This is even more true if a driver is animated and using physical gestures when talking on a phone, or when they fiddle with their hands-free device or attempt to connect it and place a call while they are driving.

All motorists on our roads and highways have a responsibility to take reasonable measures to keep others around them safe from preventable harm. While using a hands-free device is legal for most drivers, it does not necessarily mean that drivers are being the safest they can be just because they are not using their hands or looking as a device to compose a text message. It is still important for drivers to do their part in reducing risks as much as possible, and waiting to make a call until after you are done driving is always the best solution.

Injured by a Distracted Driver? Tell Us About Your Case.

At the Law Office of Marshall Silberberg, our Orange County car accident lawyers have helped numerous victims after they were hurt in preventable car accidents, including accidents caused by drivers who were distracted or using hands-free devices. If you have questions about your rights following a crash and wish to discuss the facts of your case with an attorney from our firm, we encourage you to reach out to us to request a free consultation. We can explain more about whether you may have grounds to file a claim for compensation.

For a free consultation, contact the Law Office of Marshall Silberberg today.

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