Who is more impaired – a drunk driver or a driver conversing on a hands-free phone? According to a University of Utah study and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it’s the driver conversing on the hands-free phone.

The University of Utah study  showed that when controlling for driving conditions and time on task, cell-phone drivers exhibited greater impairment than intoxicated drivers. The study found that compared with undistracted drivers motorists who talked on handheld or hands-free cell phones:

  • Drove slightly slower
  • Resumed normal speed after breaking more slowly, and
  • Were more likely to crash

In fact, three study participants rear-ended the pace car. All were talking on cell phones. None were drunk.

Further, the NHTSA has indicated that hands-free cell use causes a cognitive distraction that impairs a driver’s performance. Drivers are less likely to pick up on visual and audio cues that are necessary to avoid an accident. This makes hands-free cell use just as dangerous as handheld cell use.

Distracted driving is dangerous. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by hands-free cell use. There is no meaningful difference between handheld and hands-free cell use while driving.
When a driver is rear-ended, it may be important to consider whether the second driver was impaired or distracted. While the police officer who responds to the scene will evaluate the second driver’s sobriety, he may not ask about cell phone use. If cell phone use may be an issue, the victim’s attorney should take steps to obtain the second driver’s cell phone records.