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Hands Free Cell Phone Use is Safe from Regulation…For Now

Most Americans have noticed the erratic behavior of drivers on cell phones-the inconsistency in speed, the weaving, and even the crossing double yellow lines. If these behaviors remind you of a drunk driver, you’re correct-studies have shown that distracted driving, often caused by cell phone use, can result in the same poor driving behavior as driving under the influence.

Fortunately, there are several products that can reduce the negative effects of cell phone use while driving. Bluetooth devices and other types of headsets allow drivers to carry on a phone conversation without holding their phones to their ears. In-car technology like Sync in Ford vehicles and OnStar in GM vehicles are entirely hands free; calls are sent and received through voice commands to the car’s software.

Both of these options seem to negate many of the cell phone use activities that currently make our roadways dangerous and cause motor vehicle accidents. But Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) are not convinced that hands free devices effectively remove the “cognitive distraction” that carrying on a phone conversation can create. In other words, hands free devices and software eliminate the visual and physical distraction of a cell phone, but the attention taken away from driving to have a conversation may still negatively affect a person’s ability to focus on driving.

In order to resolve the debate on hands free devices, LaHood has asked the NHTSA to study the effectiveness of hands free devices against distracted driving, and create regulations to limit their use if the agency finds that hands free cell phone use hinders a driver’s focus.

Such regulation would be the first federal law banning cell phone use while driving. Currently, the decision to curb cell phone use while driving is left to the states. While no states completely bans both handheld and hands free use of cell phones while driving (although 28 do for new drivers), 30 have texting while driving bans and eight have handheld use bans. A federal law would standardize the country’s cell phone use while driving regulation, and hopefully make our nation’s roadways safer.