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Hands free phones ‘just as dangerous’ for motorists: Study

New study reveals hands-free mobile phones distract drivers just as much as holding the phone in their hand does

Published: Updated:

New research has revealed that drivers using hands-free mobile devices are just as likely to get distracted as those that hold mobile phones in their hands, the BBC reported Wednesday.

According to scientists at the University of Sussex, drivers will visualize the conversations they are taking a part in. This leads to them being distracted from watching the road, the report added.

The report concluded that the findings showed all phone conversations were a hazard and should be banned from motorists while driving.

In the UK it is illegal to use hand-held phones or similar devices while driving any sort of motor vehicle in the UK. Any drivers caught using one can get three penalty points on their license and a fine of £100 – similar laws exist in the UAE.

UAE authorities penalize local drivers using their mobile phones with a 200 AED fine and four black points on their license. But depending on the level of distraction the driver shows, the fine may increase to 1,000 AED and 12 black points on their license.

Dubai police have also developed a high-tech radar system capable of detecting drivers talking on their mobile phones.

According to local press reports, more than 49,000 local drivers in the UAE were fined for using their phones in 2015.

In the study some of the volunteers drove without any distractions, while the other two groups were told to listen to and engage in conversations with a man over a speaker close to them.

The groups that were distracted by the voice took a second longer to respond to hazards, such as a pedestrian crossing the road, or an oncoming speeding vehicle on the wrong side of the road.

The study revealed that when drivers were asked simple questions they tended to limit the area of vision they were focused on, because they were now picturing what they were talking about.

In Dec 2014 British mother, Alice Husband’s seven-year-old son died after he was hit by a driver talking on her hands-free mobile phone.

“If my son perhaps wasn’t so excited and didn’t run, if he walked across the road – he’s a child - if the driver hadn't been speaking on her mobile phone, all of these things could have made a difference to him, but at the end of the day it was a terrible accident and nothing is going to bring Seth back,” Husband told BBC Radio 5 live.

She said she agreed with her son’s coroner, who concluded that the use of mobile phones had an impact on drivers.

“I think even just using a CD player. Obviously we all know it is distracting because you are looking away from the road and I think we need to be more aware of how any distraction influences our driving and how important it is not to be distracted by such things if you get a phone call,” she said.

According to the BBC, Dr Graham Hole, a professor of psychology at the University of Sussex, said the research shed light on the “popular misconception that using a mobile phone while driving is safe as long as the driver uses a hands-free phone.”

“The problem is enforceability – it’s very difficult for the police to tell if someone’s using a hands-free phone,” he said.

“But on balance, I think the law should be changed to get the right message across and make it absolutely clear that any use of a mobile phone while driving is hazardous.”