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14/07/2005 - Driving four times as dangerous using hands-free kits

A recent study conducted in Perth, Australia, found that using a mobile phone whilst driving increased by fourfold the risk of a severe crash (where the driver needs hospital treatment). Importantly, the study found only a small difference between those using the cellphone itself and those using a hands-free kit. The researchers suggested that the reason for this may be that it is not the usage of the phone nor one hand off the steering wheel that is the problem, but instead it is the need to concentrate on the conversation itself.

The study looked at 456 Drivers aged 17 or over who owned or used mobile phones and had been involved in road crashes necessitating hospital attendance between April 2002 and July 2004, and the relevant phone company's records were used to determine whether or not the driver was on the phone at the time of the crash.

The likelyhood of having an accident whilst using a hands free kit was 3.8 times higher than normal, and for hand held phones was as high as 4.9 times. Both are significantly raised and both are statistically significant. It is also interesting to note there was no real difference between the age bands of the drivers.

"This is the first study to pin down the risk of an injury-causing crash if a driver is talking on a mobile phone. The bottom line is that people should not be on any kind of a mobile phone while driving. The accumulating research seems to point to the conversation being a big part of the problem."

Russ Rader
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arlington, Virginia, US

The problem here of course is enforcement. You can easily pass quite a number of people visibly using a mobile phone on a half hour journey, yet an enormous majority do not get prosecuted. To correctly catch drivers using a hands-free kit would be a near impossible feat to achieve. However, Powerwatch believes that this is further evidence to support the fact that a mobile should never be used in a car.

New Scientist Story - New Scientist article by Rowan Hooper
Orginal Paper - Original Paper, courtesy of the BMJ (Ref: BMJ, doi:10.1136/bmj.38537.397512.55)