20/06/2018 12:49 SAST | Updated 20/06/2018 17:05 SAST

Think Driving With A Hands-Free Set Is Safer Than Talking On The Phone? Think Again

Research suggests that driving with a hands-free set is just as distracting as talking on the phone without one.

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Bluetooth devices and hands-free kits are thought to prevent accidents while driving by keeping the driver's hands on the wheel. But a new study says they are not as safe as previously thought.

Research suggests that driving while talking on a cellphone at all — with or without a hands-free set — is dangerous, because the driver is distracted.

A report by the International Transport Forum (ITF) says that as many as 25 percent of crashes on South African roads are caused by the use of cellphones while driving.

According to data collected by the Discovery Insure Driver Challenge app, using a cellphone involves an average of 52 seconds of distracted driving. If you're driving at a speed of just 60 kilometres per hour, this is equivalent to driving "blind" for almost a full kilometre, according to Kirstie Haslam, attorney at DSC Attorneys.

It is illegal to drive and use a cellphone without a hands-free kit, she says, and many cars come fitted with Bluetooth capabilities.

But according to Haslam, about 90 percent of all vehicle crashes are caused by driver error, mostly due to driver distraction.

Research by the National Safety Council (NSC) in the United States says that using a hands-free device gives drivers a false sense of security. According to the NSC, activity in the area of the brain that processes moving images decreases by up to a third when a person is listening on the phone.

While other activities, like reading a book, are hard to do while listening to a phone call, driving is much the same, except the consequences of being distracted are far worse, the NSC says.

According to Haslam, driving while talking on the phone is much like daydreaming, taking your focus away from the road.

Drivers using hands-free kits are also likely to drive faster due to the false sense of security they get, she claims.