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Hands-free cellphone use not safer

The use of a cellphone in a vehicle is difficult to avoid. By difficult, of course, we don't mean that physically turning the phone off and leaving it in your jacket or purse. That is actually quite easy.

No, it is the psychological tic that develops when a person accustomed to always having the phone in their hand or at the ready, always able to check with a seconds notice that a new text has arrived or send some type of communication of your own.

That is the hard part. And the banning of hand-held cellphone use in New Jersey and in a majority of states, has helped prevent the car accidents that are attributed to distracted driving caused by texting has proved somewhat effective.

But the problem of distraction goes deeper than merely holding the phone in your hands. One of the forms of distraction is cognitive. And hands-free systems do nothing to alleviate that distraction.

One study found no safety advantage in switching drivers from hand-held to hands-free. The study noted that activities that required complex thinking caused "huge" effects on response time.

And response time is critical when avoiding accidents. At 70 mile per hour, your vehicle is moving at 102 feet per second, which is a third of a football field. Delaying stepping on your brakes by a half-second means you have travelled 50 feet. This may be the difference between a near miss and a serious collision with severe injuries.

It is easy to overestimate your own capabilities when using a cellphone. The fact you have never had a distracted driving crash is no guarantee that you cannot have one. In 2012, the more than 3,000 individuals who died distraction-affected crashes likely though they could handle it, too.

The Journalists Resource, "Distracted driving: Voice-activated systems and drivers’ reaction times," Leighton Walter Kille, November 5, 2013

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