Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Talking and driving - Hands free cell phone kits

Driving onto the highway a couple of weeks ago, I was pulled-up by the Metro Police. I had answered an urgent call on my cell-phone. My hands free cell phone kit was not in the car. I was in for a hefty fine! By some stroke of luck, I was let off. But this served as a graphic reminder of a recent article that I wrote about cell phones, hands free kits and driving!

Cell phones used by the driver of a vehicle while driving presents a danger on the roads. Even when a hands-free device is used a phone conversation is distracting.

Many drivers are aware of the danger, but are unable to let a ringing phone ring. Others are the totally unaware. In their minds they are able to not only conduct a full conversation on their hand-held phone while driving, but they can read, write and send text messages at the same time. They can multi-task - or so they think.

The problem with multitasking is that 60% of the attention goes to the call, 40% to driving. Have you ever tried to conduct a conversation with a multi tasker who is busy completing and signing contracts or marking exams?

The first problem with cell-phone driving is that one hand is occupied holding the phone to the ear. The other hand has the responsibility of steering, changing gears and signalling.

The physical constraint is not the only danger. When conducting a conversation over a phone our attention is drawn away from the driving towards the conversation.

Minimum driver reaction times are roughly one second. This reaction time is increased - multiplied - by fatique, alcohol and drugs even in minimal quantities. At 120 KM per hour a car travels 33.3 meters per second. In three seconds the car travels 100 meters. A cell-phone presents a similar danger and will slow reaction times.

Interestingly, conversations with passengers in the car have been demonstrated to slow reaction times. But an in-car conversation can pause when hazardous conditions occur or manouvers are required. The person at the other end of the cell-phone conversation has no idea of the driving conditions and no pause is possible. Poor signal quality may demand extra attention from the driver to follow the conversation.

The danger is at its worst when these elements are combined. The driver's attention is elsewhere and only one hand is available to manage to vehicle.

Hands-free devices do not totally solve the problem. The driver may still be distracted, but will at least have two hands available to cotrol the vehicle. Although illegal to use a hand held cell-phone while driving in many countries, thousands continue to talk and drive. It will never be possible to ban cell phones from cars, but a mandatory hands-free kit in every vehicle would go a long way towards reducing this problem.

Which brings us to the next problem. Shouldn't all cell-phones be able to connect to a standard hands-free device in a car?

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