New Mexico has taken legislative action in recent years to prohibit cellphone-related driving distractions. Since cellphones have becomes so prevalent, there has been a corresponding spike in accidents from distracted driving. It is now illegal to hold your cellphone while driving—regardless of whether you’re calling, texting or reading.
This law was put into place to improve traffic safety. Holding a cellphone while driving does increase rates of distraction—this much is clear. However, there is a widely held belief that hands-free calling eliminates the danger. This is untrue. Here’s why:
Your brain on a cellphone
It may be tempting to think that having a hands-free conversation on the phone while driving is just as safe as having a conversation with a passenger in your car. However, human response is different in these scenarios.
If you’re driving down the highway while talking to your friend in the car, you both have the benefit of the same vantage point. If driving conditions suddenly change, you’ll both notice. If the pick-up truck next to you suddenly swerves into your lane and forces you off the road, you’ll both naturally break the conversation to focus on avoiding a crash.
However, if you’re having a hands-free cellphone conversation with that friend in the same scenario, your reaction will be different. Since your friend doesn’t see the pick-up truck’s reckless driving, they’ll continue talking. You’ll instinctively try to split your attention between the conversation and the truck. The problem is, the human brain can’t focus on two things at once.
In this situation, your chances of being in an accident spike. Even if you use hands-free calling for relatively short period of time, it greatly increases your driving risk. If you talk hands-free for just 50 minutes a week, you’re five times more likely to be involved in a crash.
If you’re an experienced driver, it may feel like driving has become second nature—and it doesn’t require as much of your attention. However, driving requires attention to many things at once. Adding new distractions to your driving increases your risk, no matter how experienced you are.