NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Most people agree that drivers shouldn’t be on the road while distracted by their cellphones, but exactly how far the government should go in banning such behavior is a matter of some debate.
Last week the National Transportation Safety Board recommended a nationwide ban on the use of cellphones while driving, with the exception of emergencies. Interestingly, the report did not say that an exception should be made for hands-free devices, as many state laws do.
But not everyone agrees. Notably, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in a press conference Wednesday that he did not feel that it was necessary to ban hands-free calling from behind the wheel.
“The problem is not hands-free,” he told reporters, according to The Detroit News.
So with two federal agencies apparently at odds over safe driving practices, who’s in the right?
The science does indeed suggest that the NTSB is right in not carving out an exception for hands-free devices. While it’s clear that texting while driving is more dangerous than making a call, the distance between holding a phone to make a call and using a Bluetooth isn’t as great, with studies finding little to no difference between the impairment caused by handheld or hands-free conversations. It seems that simply carrying on a conversation over the phone is enough to distract a driver, regardless of whether you’re holding the phone or wearing a headset.
Popular opinion is mixed, though. When we posed the question to our Facebook page, reader George W. Serbia noted that “Hands free works fine. It is no different than having a conversation with someone in the passenger seat.” Another reader, Mary Ellen T, agreed, asking: “Is there really any difference whether you use a hands-free device or listen (and sing) to the radio?” By contrast, Frank Aloha Rizzo emphatically agreed with the NTSB, saying that “All cell phone use should be banned while driving.”
With the federal government apparently just as divided as our readers, we don’t expect any kind of nationwide ban on hands-free talking behind the wheel to become law in the foreseeable future.
Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.