In the last decade, the public has been swarmed with media coverage detailing the dangers of talking on a cell phone while driving. With the intentions of increasing road safety and reducing accidents and general auto insurance claims, some states have passed laws banning the use of mobile devices behind the wheel.
Despite these laws, hands-free devices have become increasingly popular. Apple and Google are both releasing hands-free devices designed to help users interact without taking their hands off of the wheel or their eyes off of the road, according to WTVR.com. Auto safety experts are concerned that this may lead to an increase in accidents and general auto insurance claims.
New hands-free devices
The Apple CarPlay connects to users' iPhones, letting them make calls, dictate text messages, and interact with phone apps while driving, according to the news source. While there are a number of such devices on the market already - mostly made by car manufacturers - safety industry experts are concerned that the release of such a device by Apple or Google will popularize the technology, leading to an increase in apps, distractions, accidents, and car insurance claims.
"We're very, very concerned about it," the senior director of the National Safety Council, David Teater, told the news source. "The auto industry and the consumer electronics industry are really in an arms race to see how we can enable drivers to do stuff other than driving."
Both Apple and Google feel that their technology will make roads safer, as drivers will be able to access their devices with fewer diversions. Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of iPhone and iOS product marketing, said in a statement that, "iPhone users always want their content at their fingertips and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction."
Is hands-free really safer?
While it appears to many that, yes, hands-free technology is safer than handheld technology behind the wheel, experts generally do not agree. A Journal of Safety Research paper, titled, "Is a hands-free phone safer than a handheld phone?" noted that cell phone users had a 38 percent higher risk of being in an accident than non-users, and that frequent cell phone users had a risk that was more than 100 percent higher, supported by the Laberge-Nadeau et al. (2003) study.
The paper looked at a number of studies that directly compared the use of hands-free devices with handheld devices, and concluded that performance was rarely better for people conducting a phone conversation via hands-free technology than for people using handheld phones. In some cases, the paper actually found that drivers using a handheld phone tended to compensate for the distraction that they were experiencing - for example, by driving slower - while hands-free users did not.
The paper concluded that current research did not support the decision to allow the use of hands-free technology while driving.