Fleet News

Hands-free calls at the wheel on the rise, poll suggests

Brake is renewing its call to ban hands-free kits after a Brake and Direct Line survey revealed that almost half (45%) of drivers admit to using the devices when driving.

The road safety charity says that, while the use of hand-held phones by drivers has dropped, hands-free use has risen to nearly four in 10 (38%), from one in five (22%) in 2006.

Brake believes that the lack of a total ban has left many drivers unaware that using a hands-free mobile at the wheel is just as risky as using a hand-held.

In reality, it is the distraction of the conversation that causes the danger. Studies have shown the risk of being in a crash that causes injury is increased four times for drivers on both hand-held and hands-free phones, with reactions 30% slower than driving at the UK drink drive limit, and 50% slower than under normal conditions.

Brake and Direct Line's survey also found that texting at the wheel is a widespread menace, with three in 10 of all drivers (30%) admitting sending or reading messages while driving, and an even higher proportion of young drivers (age 18-24) - more than four in 10 (44%) - doing so.

Smartphone apps are an additional threat, with one in eight (12%) drivers using them at the wheel, up from less than one in 10 (9%) in 2006.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: "Using a hands-free phone while driving can end and ruin lives just as surely as using a phone hand-held, and no phone call or text is worth a life.

“The Government needs to act now to stop this risky behaviour. We all need to take responsibility and put our phones safely out of reach and earshot while behind the wheel, and refuse to speak on the phone to others who are driving."

Read next week’s Fleet News for further analysis and comment, as well as the legal risk faced by fleets using hands-free devices.

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  • Weave - 23/04/2014 12:13

    Completely agree with the survey & the sentiment & I regularly use a hands free phone (so I know I'm a hypocrite). When hand held was banned I argued then that the distraction caused by a conversation far outweighed the actual holding of a device & I still believe this. People will argue against a ban for business reasons, not for safety reasons. Personally I would rather get home safe & a little poorer than not get home at all. Many many people on the roads on the phone or texting are a huge risk to YOU every day you go near a road let alone drive on the road.. This is one of those issues that needs a government lead a bit like drinking & driving

  • Dave - 23/04/2014 12:41

    If you ban hands free mobiles why not go the whole hog and ban the use of sat navs, radios,DVD players etc from cars as they all cause distractions or lapses in concentration. Of course there are those that of us that also blink and occasionally sneeze which will cause us to lose concentration and visibility to the road ahead. Better still lets just stop driving as it is far too dangerous in the risk averse world in which we live.

  • Ian Lawrence - 23/04/2014 12:49

    I imagine it won't be too long either before passengers are banned from cars due to conversation being a distraction - car sharing could become illegal. Listening to the radio might also be considered dangerous whilst listening to a favourite cd an absolute disaster . They should also consider banning switching on indicators, adjusting mirrors, winding down windows and scratching your nose - all very distracting from concentrating.

  • Ian Lawrence - 23/04/2014 12:49

    I imagine it won't be too long either before passengers are banned from cars due to conversation being a distraction - car sharing could become illegal. Listening to the radio might also be considered dangerous whilst listening to a favourite cd an absolute disaster . They should also consider banning switching on indicators, adjusting mirrors, winding down windows and scratching your nose - all very distracting from concentrating.

  • Weave - 23/04/2014 12:58

    Dave makes some valid points, radios, sat navs, even sneezing does cause distraction to a driver. Stopping driving too would of course be even safer. But the point about phone useage and it's particular issue has been missed. The phone is a two way device requiring your thought, your consideration and attention and therefore really takes your mind away from the road ahead. Texting is even worse as it takes your eyes away with your mind. Whilst we all listen to the radio, we don't answer back, certainly not in a considered and intelligent way anyway :) When something happens ahead of you on the road, the radio does not have your mind captured in the same way an important conversation with your boss or a customer could have. Appropriate thought to this topic would be sensible, our safety and health must surely be amongst the most important things

  • Ian L - 23/04/2014 13:07

    Sorry - disagree - I'm sick of living in a nanny state - this 'elf and saftety', pc crazy country is simply going to grind itself into a stanstill - we'll not be able to get on and do anything. Common sense used to be such a great British trait - it's now being frittered away through over-bearing, over zealous, controlling loonies. That feels better!

  • Gary - 23/04/2014 13:08

    So my Vehicle has phone buttons on the wheel which kind of indicates its acceptable? .... I cant see the difference in using OEM hands free than having a conversation with someone in my vehicle or trying to come up with answers on Ken Bruce's BBC 2 Pop Master Good job its automatic, must be really dangerous to keep taking your hand off the wheel to change gear At what point will all this end

    • Gary - 23/04/2014 13:13

      @Gary - Oh sorry forgot to mention, the one place left in Europe you can actually hold your phone whilst driving? ... It's Sweden they know a thing or two about safety

  • Ian L - 23/04/2014 13:11

    My God Gary - common sense. I was starting to despair - thank you so much...

  • Weave - 23/04/2014 13:24

    Certainly pleased to have made Ian L feel better :) & again i agree with an element of your note, common sense should apply. I would concede a quick call to or from the wife saying what time I will be home for supper doesn't take a lot of concentration and is therefore unlikely to distract me from the road ahead. A detailed discussion about the weeks figures with the boss though does have the potential to distract, surely you can understand the difference? The reason chatting to someone who is with you in the car is different is because they too have a feel for what is going on around you and the car, they also pause when the car in front swerves or brakes etc, they understand why your conversation has paused. Someone on the end of a phone (or indeed a young child on the rear seat) does not share the same empathy (so ban young children too I hear you say? well yes go on then :)) As for trying to come up with the answers for Pop Master,,, well I stuggle with that whether I'm driving or not, but I certainly can't do it whilst I'm on the phone to someone as I'm concentrating on the conversation, not the quiz.......! which sort of goes back to the original point, it's not what your hands are doing that matters when Gary changes gear, it's where your mind is that's most important. Drive with care your life to spare. :)

  • andyneale1217 - 23/04/2014 13:25

    Of course this assumes that if we are not talking on the phone then we are concentrating on our driving! I have been involved in Fleet Driver Training for over 25 years and we still quote the same statistic that drivers only concentrate for 25% of the time and that hasn't changed since before mobile phones were invented!

  • Weave - 23/04/2014 13:30

    Hey Ed, Have I won the John Lewis vouchers yet? Certainly got them going ! :)

  • Ian L - 23/04/2014 13:33

    Do John Lewis do 'hands-free' kits? :-)

  • AngiWard - 23/04/2014 14:24

    I have to say that reading all the comments has made me smile as it does seem that everyone has their opinion on this. I agree with the fact that people shouldn't text when driving however with regards to using a properly fitted Hands Free device is acceptable as it is just that "handsfree". If they ban handsfree, the next step will be to ban Sav Nat systems as this is already under scutiny. So where will it stop? Surely having the safety of the handsfree kit is better than people going back to holding the phone......maybe I'm wrong but everyone has their own views and the one thing that I'm sure hasn't been taken away yet is the right to free speech and airing views.

  • Ian L - 23/04/2014 14:38

    Dear Angi - I really do have to disagree with you I am afraid. The problem with free speech is that it is very distracting from whatever you are concentarting on and as for airing of views, that should be banned immediately just in case it stops you from adhering to political correctness and cuts across Health and Safety regulations :) The only solution to all this is to stay indoors, dont move (in case you trip over something whilst concentrating on where you want to get too), don't think ( in case it distracts you from politcal correctness) and - if posssible - don't breathe and stay safe. There you go - easy - all sorted :-)

  • NKKai - 23/04/2014 15:46

    'Risky behaviour' should also include satnav's as drivers actually have to take their eyes off the road

  • AngiWard - 23/04/2014 16:10

    This subject could go on for a year and a day...a friend made a good point, children should be banned from cars as they are more of a distraction that any phone or Sat Nav system!

  • Bloke - 23/04/2014 16:18

    Children should only be banned for women drivers. Their maternal instincts cannot cope with the priority driving should receive. Men tend not to suffer the same and so the children suffer instead of the driving.

  • Dave S - 23/04/2014 16:22

    Can you tell me the difference in risk between conducting a hands-free telephone conversation and a similar conversation with a passenger. I appreciate the risks involved in setting up the call, but can that be balanced with the subconscious need to look at who we are talking to and thereby possibly making a conversation with a passenger more dangerous than a hands-free telephone conversation where you are not tempted to look away from the road.

  • AngiWard - 23/04/2014 16:25

    Here here Dave!! and Bloke.... that is obviously something that you have experienced however I have seen first hand male drivers coming more agressive on the road due to not being able to control the children, which I think is much more dangerous that a woman being "maternal". And for the record it was a male that suggested not allowing children in vehicles as they are more distracting that anything.

  • Merganser47 - 23/04/2014 17:21

    Dave S is correct, conversations with passengers is far more distracting. One surefire way to be safe whilst driving undistracted is to ban children, other passengers, mobile phones, car radios and CD/MP3&4 players.

  • Bloke - 23/04/2014 17:40

    I think we are all agreed, children are to be banned then, especially on school buses. That should do the trick. Passengers of all kinds should not talk at all Pets are ok so long as they don't talk. So glad to be going home now, wonder what tomorrow's topic will be? Bye.... :)

  • Michael Hinton - 23/04/2014 22:49

    In reality, it is the distraction of the conversation that causes the danger - Rubbish - It's no more distracting than talking to your passenger in the vehicle, or does Brake want to ban that as well? In reality in-car music systems are far more distracting, the maximum volume (wattage output) far exceeding safe driving levels by overpowering the ambient road noise, the younger generation usually have the volume set so high they would never hear an emergancy service vehicle siren (Police, Fire, Ambulance) even if it was next to them on the road let alone in the distance.

  • Dave S - 23/04/2014 23:14

    Dear Brake, can you post a link to the study you mention that has shown the risk of being in a crash that causes injury is increased four times for drivers on both hand-held and hands-free phones. I am at front end of delivering road safety practice to company car drivers and cannot see why a well managed hands free conversation is any more dangerous than talking to passengers, especially some of the in depth business conversations that go on on the way to meetings etc. Look forward to seeing the link posted.

    • christopher.smith - 23/04/2014 23:52

      @Dave S information provided to us by Brake is as follows: Drivers who perform complex secondary tasks at the wheel increase their crash risk dramatically, with those speaking on phones, hands-free or hand-held, four times more likely to be in a crash that injures [4]. [4] refers to the following report: Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia, 2005 The paper is available online here: http://www.bmj.com/content/331/7514/428 Hope that helps, Christopher Smith Web Producer, Fleet News

  • Dave S - 24/04/2014 11:09

    Thanks Christopher, however, I find that inconclusive as regards true hands-free conversations as their control was; "Phone activity was defined as calls made or received and text messages sent. Voice mail and text messages received were excluded unless drivers confirmed that they checked these while they were driving" My point here is that the data included text messaging and potentially checking messages. There is no evidence I could find in the article that split out percentages of those simply holding a conversation and those using data services. Also, the vast majority were using ear pieces which were very common 9 years ago when this study was undertaken and not up to date truly hands-free Bluetooth in car equipment. the earpiece requires driver attention and handling and therefore could be a distraction in itself. It also states some of the study group were using the phones' own speaker which involves handling the equipment. There are too many variable in this study to conclude that the conversation is the issue and not how the drivers were handing the equipment.

  • NKKai - 24/04/2014 11:53

    Brake's recommendaction feels like the 'spin' and smokescreen we're used to from government, Is there a more recent study that they could base their case on......

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