Take a Trial | Subscribe
Past Polls
Suggest a Poll
Send your comments to the editor
About HRinfodesk
Why HRinfodesk?
Privacy Policy
Legal Notices
Editorial Policy
Help Desk
How to Subscribe|Renew
Change Email Address
Login and Password Centre
Contact Us

Text Size: M L XL XXL Printer Friendly Version
  Email this article

Hands-free devices - are they really safer?

By Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., Managing Editor at HRinfodesk.com---Canadian Payroll and Employment Law News, December 2008

Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Quebec have already legislated bans on hand-held cellphone use while driving. Ontario and Manitoba have tabled legislation to ban hand-held cellphone use while driving. Prince Edward Island, British Columbia and other jurisdictions are studying the possibilities. However, many experts and interested stakeholders have indicated that hands-free devices that are allowed under enacted and proposed legislation are just as distracting as hand-held devices, and should also be banned.

We asked your opinion on the subject in our last HRinfodesk poll which asked Do you think it is appropriate to allow hands-free cellphones etc. while driving? Out of 359 respondents, 160/44.57% respondents agreed that hands-free cellphones while driving are appropriate, while 167/46.52% disagreed.

Below is a breakdown on the poll results and an overview on the issue of hands-free devices while driving. A commentary on the legal implications of cellphone use while driving from a previous poll can be found in article number 25082.

What are hand-free devices?

The most common type of hands-free device is the headset, but there are also hands-free devices that operate like a speakerphone, which may or may not include a corded microphone to enhance outgoing audio quality. Such devices can be convenient in a car or other location where you frequently need to communicate hands-free.

The research

Some researchers believe that using a hands-free device does not make driving safer than using a hand-held device, and they believe they know why: research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied adds to a growing body of evidence that mobile phones of all kinds (hands-free or hand-held) can make driving dangerous. The study by the American Psychological Association of over 500 drivers found that talking on a cellphone cut activity in areas of the brain used for driving by half. Drivers focusing on a phone conversation had slower reaction times, were less likely to recall objects on the road, and had a hard time noticing traffic around them. Researchers also noted that hands-free devices in the car posed the same hazards as hand-held devices.

A different study by the University of Utah tested drivers' use of hands-free cell phones on the road, and found that chatty drivers were the main cause of traffic problems. Apparently, drivers talking on a cellphone were less likely to change lanes, and spent more time following slow-moving vehicles. Lee Strayer of the University of Utah and colleagues have found in a series of experiments using driving simulators that hands-free cellphones are just as distracting as hand-held models. They have demonstrated that chatting on a cellphone can slow the reaction times of young adult drivers to levels seen among senior citizens, and shown that drivers using mobile telephones are as impaired as drivers who are legally drunk. For the latest study, also using a simulator, Strayer's team showed that drivers using a hands-free device drifted out of their lanes and missed exits more frequently than drivers talking to a passenger. They tested 96 adults aged 18 to 49.

Strayer pointed out that passengers can help the driver with navigation. He also said that passengers control their speech in line with the situation on the road, unlike a cellphone, where the speaker on the other side is unaware of traffic conditions.

The risk doesn't stem from whether one or both hands are on the wheel, the research suggests. It's whether the driver's mind is somewhere else.

And a slight majority of HRinfodesk poll respondents seem to agree with the research results.

Hands-free allowances in the law have come to be seen as the most feasible way to address the dangers of driver distraction because of cellphone use.

Therefore, while there may be laws out there that ban the use of hand-held phones behind the wheel, the experts are convinced there is a false sense of safety with allowing the use of hands-free devices while driving. They say the truth is the road will remain a dangerous place as long as drivers continue to carry phone conversations on hands-free devices.

Employers can protect themselves from potential liabilities by ensuring that their policy on cellphone use also includes guidelines and procedures on the use of hands-free devices while driving during work hours.