(U-WIRE) STORRS, Conn. – Drunk driving used to be the largest concern for police looking to keep the roadways safe. But a new threat has emerged, and it is none other than drivers talking on cell phones. In today’s busy world, those who can’t muster the time to get directions, call their mum, or find the party while standing still often do so while on the road.
Many worry that cell phones distract drivers, making them particularly vulnerable to accidents, and recent research seems to support this. A study completed by David Strayer, a University of Utah psychology professor finds that youths are especially likely to become distracted from their driving while using a phone, stating that, “If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, their reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver who is not using a cell phone.”
Anyone who has recently been riding with their grandparents can tell you that this is not good news, and states like New York and Connecticut have taken it upon themselves to restrict the use of cell phones while driving by passing laws that makes it illegal for drivers to be on the phone without a hands-free device. But does this law actually reduce the number of people that are using the phone while driving, or does it in fact make the road an even more dangerous place to drive? Theoretically laws like Connecticut’s should free up the hands of drivers and in turn increase their ability to drive safely, but there are reasons to doubt this conclusion.
Since I am prone to accidents and usually drunk, it should come as no surprise that I have already broken my phone this semester — but I had an upgrade to burn and decided to pick up the Chocolate, a super do-it-all phone that looks cool to boot. I also took the opportunity to get a Bluetooth earpiece so that I could easily use the phone if I had to drive.
I was hoping that the Bluetooth earpiece would solve some of the issues that I have with wired headsets, one of which is my contention that using a hands free device actually makes answering a phone call more complicated and distracting than doing so in a traditional manner. First off, unless you enjoy doing all of your driving with an earpiece in, the process of putting an earpiece in is a lot to ask of a driver — find your phone’s headphone jack, remove any protective covers, plug in the headset, untangle any wires and place it into your ear, all before the phone stops ringing. Perhaps that’s simple enough for some folks, but it sure seems more complicated to me than grabbing your phone and holding it to your head.
So how much does your hand actually have to do with your level of distraction? I know that I do a good bit of driving with one hand gently resting at the bottom of the wheel, though as my insurance company points out in my bill, I do not meet the qualifications of a “preferred risk” (something about being a 21-year-old male). It is true that having both hands is beneficial to most driving situations, but having that extra hand won’t speed your reaction time to the brake, which is what you’re most likely to need in the event of an accident. The fact is that it isn’t holding the phone that is the distraction, it’s holding the conversation.
But the law is the law, so does the Bluetooth piece ease any of my concerns? Not really. Sure, you no longer need to search for your phone’s headphone jack, but you do have to wait for it to synch up, which is something that cannot be done if you’re already on the phone. Rather than simply dialing a number, I spent an equivalent amount of time just staring at the phone to make sure that the headset was linked. Even after I succeeded, I had yet to call anyone.
Ideally, I would at this point use the phone’s driving mode to verbally command it to call someone, but the headset that I purchased for too much money must not have a nice microphone, because it doesn’t even come close. I asked it to “Call Mike,” and it retorted, “Did you say, Call Boyd?” I wonder if anyone commissioned a study to see whether hands-free devices increase road rage, because after about the fourth failure I wanted to send it out the window.
Throughout my ordeal, the Chocolate was of no help. I know that the ad campaign likes to demonstrate all of the cool things that it can do, but most phones perform all of those functions anyway. What should separate a phone is its ease of use, and the Chocolate’s interesting control scheme combined with its sub-par menu system makes it a confusing piece.
The Connecticut hands-free law does not actually make the road safer because it is choosing to focus on the wrong aspect of cell phone conversations. If lawmakers really wanted to make the road safer, they should make laws that force phone manufacturers to keep safety in mind when they design their phones. Instead of making their phones into jacks of all trades and masters of none, manufacturers might put their creative energy into designing a phone that could be used hands free right out of the box, eliminating the need for complicated and expensive accessories that cause more trouble than they’re worth.