Phone Calls In The Car OK — If They're Hands-Free

By WGBH News


Dec. 15, 2011

texting while driving

Massachusetts already has a ban on texting while driving. Should it ban all cellphone use altogether? (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

BOSTON — The Massachusetts-based advocacy group Safe Roads Alliance thinks the National Transportation Safety Board might be going too far in its recommendation that states ban all use of cellphones behind the wheel, even if they're using a hands-free device.
An ordinary phone conversation “probably isn’t horrendously distracting,” Safe Roads president Jeff Larson said on “The Emily Rooney Show” on Dec. 15.
“We support almost everything they’re calling for,” he said, in terms of reducing distractions while driving. However, Safe Roads parts ways with the NTSB “where they’re calling for a complete ban on all cellphone conversations, where the science and the research isn’t absolutely clear that it’s as dangerous as they’re indicating.”
Studies so far show that texting is significantly more distracting than either talking on the phone or listening to the radio, Larson said. One study, though it wasn’t definitive, even suggested conversations might be beneficial because drivers slow down when they're on the phone.
Larson had “pulled over into a parking lot to talk” to WGBH News but does make calls from the road, he said: “I always operate in a hands-free environment.”
To him, that hands-free part is crucial.
First, it helps drivers avoid the temptation of that glowing small screen. “The intent is to get the phone out of people’s hands. If they’re not holding it they’re less likely to text,” Larson said.
Second, only when you require hands-free phone use across the board — for talking and dialing — can a state enforce a ban on texting, Larson said. Massachusetts passed such a law last year. But with drivers still allowed to hold phones to talk, “It really isn’t enforceable… they can’t do anything about it unless they have absolute proof.”
The NTSB directive came after a probe found that a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year was triggered by a driver who was distracted by 11 text messages sent or received in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash.

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