Photo from Flickr

Photo from Flickr

Throughout the month of June, Wilshire Law Firm has been celebrating National Safety Month by discussing ways we can keep ourselves safe while enjoying the activities we love most. Since summer calls many of us to the open road, we thought the best way to send you off on your summer road tripping adventures would be to give you some important information about the dangers of using hands-free devices while driving. We may think going hands-free in the car keeps us safer, but the truth is, it can be just as dangerous.

Just Because It’s Mounted on the Windshield, Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe

When mobile phones came to the masses, they forever changed the way that we communicate with one another. Gone are the days of being unreachable; getting someone’s voice mail can be a personal affront, since we’re now supposed to always be available. That level of availability includes driving. Accidents, injuries and deaths started skyrocketing when we realized that drivers were being distracted by talking on the phone. Sure, we talk to the people who are in our vehicles with us, but the act of taking a hand off the wheel to hold a phone while driving, changed the entire landscape.

When smart phones and mobile GPS devices came along, we began doing much more than talk. Playing games, messing with apps, surfing the internet, and taking selfies became de rigueur behind the wheel; so much so, that devices like integrated handsets, Bluetooth, and windshield-mounted equipment couldn’t keep us safe enough. Multitasking while driving was never a good idea to begin with. Hands-free devices have not made it much safer.

Now, there are technology companies that claim they will be able to curb distracted driving with new devices that will project holographic images onto the windshield, which can be controlled with simple hand gestures. These hands-free devices, known as “head-up” devices, carry with them some ambitious claims about helping drivers see directions and other written information more safely, as well as being able to take phone calls more easily. Instead of pushing a button on the dashboard or steering wheel, you’ll simply be able to wave your hand to answer a call. Will this keep us safer while driving? Experts don’t think so.

Under No Circumstances Should We Attempt Tasks that Distract from Driving

One of the companies set to launch a head-up device claims “it is safer than looking down at the dashboard, or at an image on your phone”. Another claim is that these devices are similar to the navigation tools pilots use to land airplanes. We all know that driving a car and flying a plane are two completely different activities, and a device used by pilots might not necessarily work as well for drivers.

Dr. Christopher Wickens, a Colorado State University professor, and a well-respected expert on vehicular safety issues, says these claims are untrue.

Dr. Wickens said, “The head-up displays used by airplanes show only information critical to flying, like an outline of the runway or the horizon, and crucially, that information is often displayed as a visual overlay with the actual runway or horizon. By contrast, a head-up display in the car that gives non-driving information that is out of alignment with the road is the worst of two worlds. It is clutter, contributing to potential failure, and distraction contributing to potential failure.” In short, any type of multitasking while driving is ill-advised, no matter what type of device it is.

Less Is Definitely More

Despite the warnings from experts, carmakers have convinced drivers that they can “have their cake, and eat it, too”. Many have already integrated some of these technologies into their cars, which go beyond the now-standard USB ports used for phones and MP3 players.

The more we are told we should be able to safely multitask while driving, the more we will attempt to do it. Instead, we need to adopt a less-is-more approach in order to stay safe. Car makers have not yet invented any models that are guaranteed to keep us alive no matter how severe the accident. Until that happens, we need to heed the warnings, and go easy on the gadgets.