There has been a lot of discussion lately about the dangers of distracted driving. There have been state and national pushes to discourage texting while driving or holding a cell phone while driving. Such practices are rightly seen as risky, as they can take your eyes off the road and a hand off the wheel.
In the discourse surrounding the dangers of smartphone-related distracted driving, hands-free phone technology has been touted as a safe alternative. After all, if you can talk on the phone without using your hands, it must be as safe as talking to another passenger who’s in the car with you, right?
Wrong. Here’s why:
When you and a passenger are chatting together in the same car, you have the same vantage point. You both see the same traffic conditions. If you encounter a bottleneck where traffic is suddenly merging, for example, you’ll be more apt to pause your conversation to focus on your driving task–without needing to interrupt or explain. Your passenger is likely to respond in a similar way. If they’re chatting away when road conditions suddenly get more complicated, they’ll be inclined to put the conversation on hold.
When you’re talking on the phone, however, your conversation counterpart is blind to what’s going on around you. If you stop talking because another car suddenly swerved in front of you, the other person won’t know that. They’ll be more inclined to increase their conversation at the moment you need to focus on the road the most. Your brain can’t give full attention to two things at once, so now the task of driving and concentrating on a conversation are fighting over limited cognitive resources.
If the neuroscience isn’t enough to convince you that talking on the phone while driving is dangerous, the evidence may change your mind. Drivers who talk on the phone 50 minutes per month are a whopping five times more likely to get into a crash.
Talking on the phone can be a pleasant way to pass the time during a long commute. However, it’s not worth risking the safety of you and others on the road. Postponing your call until after you reach your destination won’t kill you. The reverse isn’t necessarily true.