The impressively named National Consumer Advocacy Commission (NCAC) has created a "Cell Phone Safety" Web site full of useful information about the topic. Unfortunately for its credibility, NCAC seems to be a mysterious organization about which I was able to learn almost nothing online except through a Domain Name System (DNS) lookup using betterwhois.com. Even that didn't reveal much: the registrant has concealed all identifying information using a proxy domain registrar. It's hard to trust someone about whom one knows nothing. [Mind you, to be fair, my own domain, mekabay.com, has the wrong contact information listed as well, because I forgot to get the excellent InMotionHosting Web hosting provider to change it. I do have a contact page, though, with what some colleagues think is too much detail about myself.]
The Cell Phone Safety Site has a good summary of "Cell Phone Driving Hazards" with several links to discussions of research. The primary issue with talking on cell phones, with or without hands-free systems, is distraction. The page includes these two crucial paragraphs (links are from the original page):
Automobiles and cell phones don't mix. A University of Utah study implies driving while talking on a cell phone reduces a driver's response time to the same levels observed in drunk drivers and "old folks." Even though automakers initially built mobile phones into car systems, and they continue to design successive generations of sophisticated telecommunications bundles, statistics are mounting that suggest distractions from cell phones increase accidents.
Profoundly alarming studies, however, fly in the face of even current cell phone legislation. States that ban use of hand-held phones while driving fail to acknowledge the growing body of evidence that shows, hand-held or hands-free, it's the act of participation in a conversation that's tantamount[sic: I guess they meant "paramount"] in the cell phone safety debate.
Truth About Hands-Free
A growing body of evidence suggests that drivers that simply involve themselves in a conversation suffer debilitating distractions. Hands-free phones may even lead drivers to believe they are safer, argue some safety advocates. Complex business transactions and emotionally involved conversations reduce driver reaction times and steal away attention.[sic] on the part of all drivers.
In part two of this two-part series, I'll provide resources for tracking laws governing talking on mobile phones while driving.