Hands-Free Mobile is Legal. But is it Safe?

January 9th, 2020
hands-free mobile is legal, but might be as distracting as picking up your mobile and using it normally.
hands-free mobile

We all know that using a mobile while driving is against the law and extremely dangerous. Using a hands-free set, however, is often seen as a way around this. While it’s entirely legal, recent research has demonstrated that it’s just as distracting as picking up your mobile and using it normally.

Bluetooth and hands-free kits for mobile phones are widely available nowadays and many people who are regularly on the road, including HGV drivers, use them without a second thought.

The simplest method is fixing your phone to the dashboard and putting it on speaker. Another option is to link your device up to a Bluetooth headset. Many drivers, however, are still putting themselves and other road users at risk.

What the Research Says

The research was carried out by psychologists Dr. Gemma Briggs at the Open University and Dr. Graham Hole from the University of Sussex.

In 2017, there were 43 deaths and 135 serious injuries involving vehicle accidents where mobile phone use was seen as a contributory factor. It’s widely accepted that using a mobile phone is not only dangerous but against the law. In fact, future law changes could see the handling of a mobile device in any way while driving made illegal.

The research by Briggs and Hole, suggests that using a handsfree set is dangerous and can lead to someone being distracted just long enough for an accident to occur.

The recent case of lorry driver David Wagstaff highlights this issue. He was found guilty of causing death by careless driving when his lorry hit a minibus while he was conducting a hands-free call. Eight people were killed during the accident, with another lorry driver convicted of the more serious offense of causing death by dangerous driving.

Using a phone while driving, even if it is hands-free, essentially means that motorists are not concentrating on the road ahead, according to the new research. That also means they can be prone to missing important visual cues and not detecting hazards on the road ahead that would normally be avoided.  

The trouble is that, while we often take it for granted, driving actually places major cognitive pressures on anyone who gets behind the wheel of a car or truck. According to Briggs, this is not just a problem with mobile phones in today’s modern cars.

More and more new vehicles, including trucks and lorries, are being equipped with the latest infotainment including systems like Alexa and Google. Drivers can easily become distracted by the plethora of interactive technology at their disposal. Text messages can be read aloud, music systems operated and calls answered. Even simple mobile satnavs can cause distraction at just the wrong moment.

Driving isn’t a simple process. We’re taking in multiple bits of information and making minor adjustments practically all the time. If our attention is distracted, we are more likely to make a mistake and this can all too often prove fatal.

Cars are a lot safer nowadays with technology such as ABS and lane-keeping software. Unfortunately, this may just give us a false sense of security.

New cars in Europe will be fitted with intelligent speed assist which can help warn drivers when they are going to fast or alert motorists to potential distractions. This could make us more likely to use our mobile phones while driving rather than less as we feel a lot safer.

There are other researchers like Briggs and Hole who think that these new technologies are likely to be just as distracting and could mean that drivers are much less safe.

According to Dr. Briggs:

“At a time when we are no longer seeing year-on-year reductions in the number of people being killed or seriously injured on our roads, it seems clear that something radical needs to be done to get drivers’ focus back onto the driving task itself – and to challenge the perception that getting from A to B is a good opportunity to indulge in catching up on a bit of C.”

What Are Current Mobile Phone Laws?

Using a hand-held mobile device while you are driving is illegal and has been since 2003. The penalties for being caught driving while using a phone have gradually increased over the last decade and a half. Nowadays, if you are caught, you will get an automatic 6 points on your license and a hefty fine of £200. That doesn’t stop people from doing it, however.

When it comes to hands-free operation, you are not allowed to touch your phone at all and any device should be set up before you get in behind the wheel and start to drive.

Following the research carried out by Briggs and Hole, there was a recommendation by the Commons Transport Committee to consider banning hands-free altogether. The government, unfortunately, has stated that there are no current plans to introduce a ban.

Should You be Calling Hands Free?

It’s obvious from the evidence that even making and receiving calls via a hands-free device is potentially dangerous. Many experts now believe that we should ban this form of communication but for the moment it remains legal.

If you are a driver who uses hands-free, it is important to be aware of the dangers. First of all, you should not be using hands-free unless for an emergency or if you are getting brief instructions from your depot if you are a truck driver.


Read more about safety tips for driving at night on our blog

There are many who also believe that using any kind of mobile device behind the wheel of a car or truck should be as socially unacceptable as drink driving.

The main advice that we can take away from recent research is that using mobile in any form while you are driving is dangerous, especially on high-speed roads like motorways. It is always best to stop and take the call if you can or wait until you reach a safe area where you can pull into the side of the road.

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