Numerous studies prove that "hands-free" doesn’t mean "distraction-free"

Several studies have shown that using hands-free devices to talk or text while driving is no safer than handheld device use.

New York's streets are always bustling. The roadways are full of drivers "on the go" who are trying to optimize the time spent on the road. Many of these same drivers will try to accomplish business tasks or keep in touch with loved ones by using handheld or hands-free devices to talk, text, email or log on to the Internet while commuting. These activities, while mundane and relatively harmless otherwise, can be very dangerous to fellow motorists, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists and others if done behind the wheel.

Taking action

In order to stem the tide of distracted driving-related car accidents - caused by the above-mentioned activities, or resulting from "old-fashioned" distractions like eating, drinking, changing the music selection or reading a map - states around the country have passed laws outlawing texting and/or handheld phones while driving. New York's law, for example, bans all drivers from texting or using a handheld cellphone while behind the wheel. It can be found in Section 1225-D of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Code.

Good intentions

The purpose behind such legislation was to lower the rate of accidents by forcing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road (not busy manipulating the keys or looking at the screen of a phone). In theory, that idea is sound. It makes sense that not having the driver's sight and hands averted to a phone would make it less likely that the driver would cause a crash.

Unfortunately, taking away the driver's need to manually type in a message or read one on a screen has not had the intended impact on the distracted driving-related accident rate. Why? Because the most distracting element of sending a text message isn't reading an incoming message, nor is it typing an outgoing one. The most distracting part of texting is the actual brain power involved in both processing an incoming message and then mentally crafting a reply. This is known as "cognitive distraction."

The cold truth

Multiple studies, several of which were performed by some of the most respected research facilities in the country, have proven it time and again: hands-free texting or emailing, and even hands-free calling, is simply not any safer than doing it manually. Since handheld and hands-free devices both pose the same risk, merely outlawing handheld devices-while allowing drivers to continue using hands-free devices-is essentially pointless. It's not to say that New York's lawmakers aren't genuinely trying to address the issue of distracted driving; they took a logical step in what they thought was the right direction. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

Only time will tell if the results of these and other studies will convince legislators to pass laws banning all cellphone use behind the wheel. Even if that happens, most new cars are coming with standard "info-tainment" systems that integrate telephone and Internet access into the vehicle. In the meantime, distracted drivers are still causing hundreds of thousands of accidents each year. If you or a loved one has been injured in a distracted driving-related crash, seek the advice of a New York personal injury attorney today.

Keywords: distracted driving, car accidents, texting while driving