Researchers at Queensland University of Technology have released a study disproving the common belief that conversing over the phone ‘hands-free’ is any safer than when a driver is holding a phone to their ear.

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Part of the study measured the effects that maintaining a phone conversation had on safety, including reaction time and driving performance in a driving simulator.  It was apparent that it is the cognitive load required to hold a conversation that creates the distraction, regardless of whether the driver was holding an actual phone.

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“We took a group of drivers and exposed them to a virtual road network which included a pedestrian entering the driver’s peripheral vision from a footpath and walking across a pedestrian crossing,” Dr Haque said. “We then monitored the driver’s performance and reaction times during hands-free and hand-held phone conversations and without. The reaction time of drivers participating in either a hand-held or hands-free conversation was more than 40 per cent longer than those not using a phone.” For reference purposes, that delay equates to approximately 11 metres (36 ft) when traveling at 40 kph (25 mph).

The distraction of a cell phone conversation is different than that of an in-car conversation, because passengers can, for example, stop talking should driving circumstances get complicated by traffic, weather, or crowds of school children. So regardless of the legality of hands-free cell phone usage, it is safest to just not do it at all.

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