The Wall Street Journal reports on research showing hands-free cell phone talking while driving is unsafe at any speed: This is a purely public service announcement I make today: if you'd like to dramatically reduce your odds of finding yourself in an accident, don't talk on a cell phone while driving regardless of whether you're holding it or using a hands-free system.
The cellular industry doesn't like it, sure, but the growing body of research reviewed in this article makes it clear that talking on a cell phone while driving has a significantly different impact on your ability to stay focused on the road than any other activity, including listening to the radio or talking to passengers. As the Car Talk guys bumper sticker says (see upper right), Drive Now, Talk Later!
Studies to the contrary turn out not to be to the contrary, and have had the usual PR spin put on them. You know why we have anti-bacterial soap all across the U.S.? Because of a single study done on the cleanliness of street vendors in Mexico. It all traces back to that. A public-health crisis, producing more and more resistant strains of bacteria, results from companies choosing to use limited information to promote a message instead of performing more science to determine appropriate ways to market their products.
The same is true here: cell companies could promote safer uses of phones, but their money is in pushing minutes (at the moment). When cell operators finally switch to unlimited monthly plans, they'll want people to talk less, just as AOL did when they switched from hourly billing to unmetered monthly service. When that switch happens, you can bet we'll see a 100-percent full-court press on restricting talking at all while driving.
As a regular bike commuter, I am often in a position to see cars clearly perform precision bad driving maneuvers. About 95 percent of the time, the driver is talking on a cell phone. When I see someone driving erratically -- bad lane position, no signal, strange turns, sudden acceleration -- I start biking even more defensively. When I pass them or them me, I see them talking on a cell phone.
This is anecdotal on my part, and I'm glad the science backs me up. It also tells me that when I see people driving poorly and they look like they're not on a cell phone, they probably are--using a hands-free system.