But according to scientists, drivers using such a device take around twice as long to react to dangers
According to scientists, speaking on your mobile phone whilst driving with the use of a hands-free device is just as dangerous as using one without and takes drivers around twice as long to react to dangers on the roads.
During the study, which was carried out by scientists from the University of Iowa, drivers took one tenth of a second longer to react to a possible hazard.
Hands-free devices are legal in the UK and are believed to be a safer way of speaking on a mobile phone whilst driving than holding it in one hand and up to the ear.
Tougher new penalties were introduced earlier this year across the country. Drivers caught using their mobile phone whilst driving now face a possible £200 fine and six points on their licence.
Despite the fact that hands-free is thought to be a much safer option, drivers reaction times are just as bad whether they are using a hands-free device or holding their phone with one hand up to their ear, or simply talking to someone in the vehicle.
Even the slightest distraction can increase a drivers reaction time by one quarter of a second, which equates to a car driving at 60mph and taking around 10ft further to come to a stand still.
The study by US researchers backs up past research which showed that talking on a mobile phone can be nearly as dangerous as someone drink-driving.
Speaking on a mobile phone whilst driving, either by using it up against your ear or via a hands-free kit slows your attention down without us even realising and affects our reaction and braking times – a further 10ft at 60mph could mean the difference between a safe stop and running into the back of another vehicle.
Studies have shown that drivers who talk on their phones tend to veer into the other lanes, forget to check their rear mirror and the speed they are doing and forget quite a lot of the actually journey itself.
Motorists who use a mobile phone whilst behind the wheel are four time more likely to have an accident and whilst hands-free kits do keep keep a drivers two hands on the steering wheel, it’s just as distracting and causes something the scientists refer to as ‘attention disengagement’.
As part of their research, the US team of scientists asked 26 volunteers to choose true or false answers from a series of statements whilst their eye movements were tracked as part of a compuertsied experiment.
The experiment was designed to mimic ‘active listening’ – which is what’s required to take in information at the same time as preparing a reply whilst in conversation behind the wheel of a vehicle.
The ones who took part in the test took nearly twice as long to look at a new object on the screen compared to those who weren’t asked any questions – the reaction time of some that were questioned was even three times longer.
“Drivers on the phone have a kind of tunnel vision where they are looking out of the windscreen but not moving their eyes around as much,” says the study, published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.
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