General Question

Bellatrix's avatar

Does speaking on your mobile phone through a hands-free (preferably bluetooth) device place you at greater risk of an accident than speaking to a person in the car with you?

Asked by Bellatrix (21257points) November 1st, 2011

A lovely jelly recently posted this information on a different thread and it has inspired this question.

“You are in two places at once – the physical space you are in and the mental and emotional space in which your conversation is taking place. Though you can perform the mechanics of driving, your “inattention” or, rather, “divided attention” means you are less able to plan, to anticipate the actions of other drivers, and to react to any unexpected conditions. As you get drawn into the conversation, you are less able to reflect on what you are doing, which is operating a two-ton machine.

What are the consequences?

The Insurance Industry Reviews the Data

The Insurance Industry Institute has reviewed the latest research. Seventy-three percent of drivers now report using a cell phone while driving. They found that talking on a cell phone while driving increases your chances of an accident by 1.3 times even when using a hands-free headset. This is about the same as when driving while drunk (at the legal intoxication limit). While this increased risk is much less than when reaching for a falling item, it leads to many more accidents because of the amount of time spent using cell phones while driving.”

Article Source:

What is your thought on this idea? Is it more dangerous to speak on your mobile phone in the car, even though it is on hands-free, than it is to speak to another person sitting in the car with you?

I should say I don’t use my phone in the car but had expressed a desire to have bluetooth technology so if I did need to make an occasional, important call, the option would be safely available to me. I would be interested in other thoughts on this idea. Is there a difference do you think?

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30 Answers

XOIIO's avatar

It’s safer than a regular phone, thats all the studies seem to care about, and what sort of wieless headset is there for a phone that uses something aside from bluetooth?

Bellatrix's avatar

I don’t know @XOIIO. Can’t you get ones that plug into your phone or just put your phone on hands free? I ignore my phone in the car because I don’t have a bluetooth connection OR my GPS set up usually or a headset or anything like that. It would be handy on occasions to be able to make a call though using a bluetooth system that is installed in your car. I don’t have this.

XOIIO's avatar

@Bellatrix Hmm, I guess those are hands free, never thought about those ones.

Ewww, wires

Bellatrix's avatar

:-) once upon a time, everything electrical had wires (I think?).

XOIIO's avatar

@Bellatrix Ones you leave the jack, you never go back. I can’t stand wired headphones anymore.

zenvelo's avatar

So to the question, my experience is that even with a bluetooth it’s much more dangerous than talking to someone that is in the car with you. I think it is because the person in the car is as aware as you are of what is going on around you as you drive. Over the phone, the other party can’t see that you’re about to get hit or slam on the brakes or need to change lanes.

Pandora's avatar

I think either can be dangerous. I know I can concentrate on my driving while a passanger is talking to me so long as we don’t enter some sort of arguement or disagreement. The passenger in a vehicle with you is also less likely to argue with you in heavy or bad traffic. The same cannot be said when you are on the phone. People often will not inform you that they are driving and people think if you are driving than you must not be in bad traffic if your willing to talk on the phone.
I have gotten calls while driving and have put it on speaker and I’ve actually asked whoever is calling to call me back later if I’m driving into a difficult area. If I am already in a difficult area than I will not pick up the phone till I can do so safetly.
Only once did I ever have to call someone while driving to get directions. I was badly lost and with deep snow all around me, I was afraid to get off the road and get stuck somewhere unfamiliar. I can honestly say that I was super aware of my driving and everyone elses.
If its not an emergency than people should really not talk on the phone while driving.

Bellatrix's avatar

I think that is a really good point @zenvelo and an important distinction.

@Pandora and my suggestion of the value of having Bluetooth was for the type of situation you discuss exactly. I don’t think being on your phone and having long or difficult conversations is the right thing to do while driving.

john65pennington's avatar

Driving and talking or texting on a cellphone, is like driving while intoxicated. Most peoples minds cannot function with two channels in operation, at the same time.

Talking on a cellphone, while driving, is like playing Russian Roulette.

The only difference is a cellphone vs. a handgun at the drivers brain.

Brian1946's avatar

I think it’s safer to be talking to a person in the car with you, in comparison to being the only one in the car and talking on a hands-free device.

However, if you’re talking on an HFD, and there’s at least one other person in the car whose attention is focused mainly on the road, then I’d say that’s slightly safer than a car with two sole occupants conversing with each other.

If you have a car full of people all texting their asses off, then the driver should spare the lives of the people in the other vehicles by aiming its vehicle at the nearest immovable object. ;-)

marinelife's avatar

Hands-free cell use is just as dangerous as driving while on a regular cell phone. I cannot find the study that compared cel use to talking to someone in the car, but it is out there. First, people in the car are also watching the road. they shut up when needed and are aware of what the driver is doing.

” The study, published in the June 29 issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, found that drivers talking on cell phones, either handheld or hands-free, are more likely to crash because they are distracted by conversation.

Using a driving simulator under four different conditions: with no distractions, using a handheld cell phone, talking on a hands-free cell phone, and while intoxicated to the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level, 40 participants followed a simulated pace car that braked intermittently.

Researchers found that the drivers on cell phones drove more slowly, braked more slowly and were more likely to crash. In fact, the three participants who collided into the pace car were chatting away. None of the drunken drivers crashed.”


“Hands-free devices do not eliminate cognitive distraction.
The amount of exposure to each risk is key. Crashes are a function of the severity of
each risk and how often the risk occurs. Most people can recognize when they are
visually or mechanically distracted and seek to disengage from these activities as
quickly as possible. However, people typically do not realize when they are cognitively
distracted, such as taking part in a phone conversation; therefore, the risk lasts much,
much longer. This likely explains why researchers have not been able to find a safety
benefit to hands-free phone conversations.
The National Safety Council has compiled more than 30 research studies and reports
by scientists around the world that used a variety of research methods, to compare
driver performance with handheld and hands-free phones. All of these studies show
hands-free phones offer no safety benefit when driving (Appendix A)”


Bellatrix's avatar

I am not asking whether talking on a hands-free is safer than speaking on a phone that is not hands-free or if texting and the like are in anyone’s dreams safe, obviously they aren’t. I am asking if talking on a hands-free phone is more dangerous that talking with other people in a car. Some people have answered this and thank you to those who have. This was a serious question and I learned something. I think the distinction is the fact that other people (adults not children) are also aware of surroundings and can modify their behaviour according to the situation around them. That is I think that is the major distinction.

I still can’t see how talking on a hands-free device is more distracting than someone chattering next to you, kids in the back of the car, twiddling with the radio, managing a burger and shake and trying to drive. My concern is that while it is obviously preferable that drivers are completely focused on the road and road conditions, in reality we are often distracted by any number of things and I am not sure that talking on a hands-free phone is any more distracting than any of those other things I mentioned. The key distinction is the ability of an adult passenger being able to react to external environmental factors.

I don’t think I have seen research that has done a comparative study of the many things that distract drivers. Perhaps someone should so we are reminded that while that guy over there talking in his hands-free phone may be cognitively less focused than the person driving next to him who is not tired and has nobody else in the car and has the radio switched off. If you are tired, playing with your radio, yelling at your kids, eating food, smoking a cigarette, you are potentially just as distracted if not more distracted.

Perhaps the safety message should focus on not being distracted and the many things that can distract us when we drive. I have come across people who are distracted by getting all uptight because the person in the car next to them is obviously talking on their hands-free phone but completely misses that their response to that other person’s behaviour is actually distracting them. We need to look to a range of driving habits and be aware of all distractions.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the topic. I will continue to not use my phone when I drive.

JLeslie's avatar

Absolutely it is more dangerous to talk on a phone, even handsfree, than speaking to someone who is sitting in the car. This is how I look at it: When the person is in the car they are witnessing the traffic as well. The conversation naturally pauses when more attention is needed for the road. Speaking to someone on the phone the driver is more likely to continue the conversation when they actually should have more focus on the road. Silence during an in car situation is acceptible, it is not rude; while silence when we are on the phone isn’t acceptible. We either have to ask the person to hold on, or be rude. As much as we would like to think we would always do the safest thing, we are actually likely to conform to the expectations of phone conversation.

As for noisy distracting children that is a separate thing, I am only talking about normal conversation.

jerv's avatar

I find both to be equally dangerous. There is no difference in the amount of distraction, at least for me.

Then again, I am odd in two ways.
1) I don’t use bluetooth when driving; my phone is plugged into my stereo as a speakerphone.

2) I give driving priority. Many people would rather talk because driving sucks. I like driving; I don’t like talking. Then again, I have no problem with being rude, especially if being polite may kill me.

Ron_C's avatar

I don’t notice any problems when using my blue-tooth head set compared to talking to passengers. I will say that I had to stop listening to audio Spanish lessons while driving. I don’t think that I was driving in an unsafe manner but did pass exits that I should have taken because I was concentration on the lesson instead of the road signs.

jerv's avatar

@Ron_C That is why I generally don’t listen to things that make me think when I drive. My wife doesn’t appreciate feeling ignored, but I would rather ignore her than ignore the road since I am (slightly) less likely to get killed that way.

Hibernate's avatar

I have friends who are in two groups or so to speak.
One group tries to avoid talking on the phone while driving to they can focus on driving.
The other group can do two things at the same time with a lot of focus on both so they can speak on the phone or talking to others while they are driving.

But I’m not sure how much using a hands free is that different from talking to someone in the car near to you. Probably I’ll need to test this myself but I don’t like driving. Not because I’m not good at it [I know how to drive ^^ even if I don’t have a license].but because when I’m in a car/bus/train I like to observe every little thing around me [sightseeing is one of my favorite things that I do]. I can’t drive and look around or look around while driving. So I prefer only to watch.

Ron_C's avatar

@jerv most of the time my wife isn’t on the trip. In fact the last time she went on a business trip it turned out to be a disaster. It was our anniversary and instead of a nice visit to a big city she accompanied me on a couple trips to the emergency room. She vowed never to go on a business trip with me again.

YARNLADY's avatar

It’s not really safe either way, but the bluetooth tends to be safer because you aren’t tempted to look at the person you are talking to, as you are when they are beside or behind you.

jerv's avatar

BTW, the reason I went through my car stereo instead of using my bluetooth earpiece is so that I can hear with both ears. I go half-deaf when I have one ear open and one ear blocked.

JLeslie's avatar

Isn’t the car stereo bluetooth?

jerv's avatar

No; mine is wired into the tape deck of the factory radio. They didn’t have bluetooth in 1985 when my car was made, and I don’t feel like buying a new radio.

SecondHandStoke's avatar


You will want a new stereo when you find a proper, logical, elegant and comprehensive solution.

jerv's avatar

@SecondHandStoke Make one for the Droid Razr HD and I might consider it.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

What’s a Droid Razr HD?

jerv's avatar

An Android competitor to the iPhone. Bigger screen, micro-SD slot for expandable storage, Kevlar back and Gorilla Glass front, and abbattery that lasts all day without charging. It uses a standard micro-USB connector instead of a proprietary one, and is a different size/shape than an iPhone.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Bigger screen?

Can the far side of it be reached comfortably with one’s thumb?

jerv's avatar

Depends on how big you are. When I spread my fingers, my hand is about 10 inches from the tip of my thumb to the tip of my pinky, so it’s a comfortable size for me while the iPhone is a bit small. My wife has hands about ⅔ the size of mine, so she can’t use her phone (a Droid Ultra; newer model, same size) one-handed.

Android phones come in a variety of sizes; our’s are near the upper end of the size range, though Samsung has larger ones. Last I checked, Androids ranged from 3.5” to 5.1” depending on make and model, compared to the iPhone 5’s 4.0”, orthe ddiminutive 3.5” of earlier models. Part of why I don’t like iPhones is that they’re too small for me :D

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Did you at least root it?

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