Mar/Apri 2009 Issue

Research refutes common notion that hands-free cell phones are safer for drivers than hand-held devices

Most motorists believe that using a hands-free device is safer than holding a cell phone behind the wheel according to a new AAA study, but research indicates that those motorists don’t have a grasp of how risky that practice can be.

The study, released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that two-thirds of Americans who use cell phones while driving believe it is safer to talk on a hands-free cell phone than on a hand-held device. However, studies show that is simply not the case.

Available research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that whether it is a hands-free or hand-held phone, the cognitive distraction is significant enough to degrade a driver’s performance. Taking a driver’s mind off the road can cause the driver to miss key visual and audio clues needed to avoid a crash.

“Too many Americans are driving with a false sense of security that hands-free devices are somehow safer, which could be a deadly mistake,” said AAA Foundation President Peter Kissinger. “Evidence shows that using a hands-free phone while driving impairs your reaction time to critical events and increases your crash risk about the same as if you were using a hand-held phone. Drivers need to be aware of the dangers of distracted driving and pay full attention behind the wheel.”

In the recent AAA Foundation survey, 53 percent of drivers reported having used a cell phone while driving at least occasionally in the month before they were interviewed, and in another AAA survey, 61 percent of respondents said the same thing. Of those who acknowledged using their cell phone while driving, 60 percent used a hand-held device and 34 percent used a hands-free phone. And while 83 percent of drivers felt that drivers using cell phones was a serious problem, 46 percent of those same drivers also admitted to using a cell phone while driving.

Also in the studies, one in seven even admitted text messaging while driving in the past 30 days. Younger drivers were far more likely than older drivers to text message and somewhat more likely to talk on cell phones while driving. Nearly half of all drivers age 18 to 24 admitted texting while driving at least occasionally, as compared to less than 5 percent of those 45 and older.

Most telling are two other studies that looked at cell phone records of drivers who crashed. It reported that phone use while driving is associated with approximately a quadrupling of crash risk.
For more information about cell phones and driving, AAA has a brochure called Drive Safer/Talk Later. For a free copy, send a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope to AAA, Cell Phones and Driving, 12901 N. Forty Drive, St. Louis, MO, 63141. Or visit and click on the news/safety section to see the brochure online.

Studies show that hands-free phones can be just as distracting as hand-held devices.

Take caution when approaching flood-covered roadways

Flooding from heavy rains and “low water crossing” risks on roadways combine to put motorists and residents in flood danger throughout the Midwest, so motorists should take caution when storm clouds approach.

Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other severe weather related hazard. The Centers for Disease Control report that more than half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. The next highest percentage of flood deaths is due to walking into or near flood waters.

Often people underestimate the force and power of water. A mere six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult, and it takes only 18–24 inches of rushing water to carry away most vehicles, including pickups and SUVs. Once afloat, vehicles will often tilt or flip, increasing drowning dangers.

To help raise awareness of the seriousness of the problem, the National Weather Service is holding Flood Safety Awareness Week, March 16–20, and promoting the slogan: Turn Around, Don’t Drown. Whether driving or walking, any time you come to a flooded road, turn around and avoid the hazards of floodwaters.

To protect your property from flood loss, AAA offers Fidelity Flood insurance, which is the No. 1 flood insurance provider through the National Flood Insurance Program. Call your nearest AAA sales agent for details. List of offices

don't drown

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