Driving and Talking: Are headsets the answer?

July 19th, 2004 by

If you want to talk on a cell phone and operate a motor vehicle in Washington DC, New York or New Jersey, you have to use a head set. A number of other states are contemplating requiring these head sets. But a July 19, 2004,article in the Wall Street Journal questions whether these headsets really make talking safer. Written by Jesse Drucker and Karen Lundegaard, the article raises some very interesting concerns about the headsets. (NOTE: Journal articles are available only via paid subscription, so we are not providing a link.)
Citing number of sources including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the article points out that using headsets might actually increase the risks for drivers. Some studies show that drivers with headsets spend more time talking on the phone. More time on the phone translates into more time at risk. As it is, American drivers spend one billion minutes a day on cell phones, 40% of total cell phone minutes. That’s an amazing number! In addition, some research indicates that drivers with head sets tend to drive faster, which obviously increases the risk. And even with a headset, the driver is still likely to fumble with key pads to dial the next call or check voicemail — all of which places the driver at increased risk.
Many researchers feel that talking on a cell phone while driving is a always a distraction, whether or not a headset is used. Have you ever noticed how people on the phone tend to look up and away while maintaining the flow of conversation?
Safe driving is a bottom line issue: Your eyes are either on the road or not. Your focus is either on what other drivers are doing, or it is somewhere else. Any distraction from the issues of the road — whether it’s talking to a hot business prospect, changing CDs or switching channels on the radio — contains the potential for tragic results. As for trying to take notes while driving, that is truly “over-the-top” risky behavior.
LynchRyan cautions employers to establish written policies on cell phone use. If a company encourages employees to conduct work while driving, the company may be liable for the driving mistakes that employees make while chatting away. Encourage employees to do any serious and detailed phone work at a rest stop.
We are a long way from fully understanding the risks of cell phone use while driving. But good managers will take steps to alleviate the exposures now, before an accident forces a re-examination of all your “on-the-road” policies.