Use of “Hands Free” Cellphones by Truck Drivers Endangers Public

August 3rd, 2016 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Use of hands-free devices by truck drivers is not risk free. It’s only slightly less hazardous than using a cellphone that’s held up to your face, according to research. Given the damage a commercial truck can do because of its weight (up to 80,000 pounds), any extra hazard is one hazard too many.

Use of hands-free devices while driving, especially those converting speech to text for text messaging, is not safe behind the wheel, according to the results of a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports US News and World Report.

The study was done by researchers at the University of Utah Center for the Prevention of Distracted Driving. It found that “cognitive distractions” can be dangerous.

  • Drivers were set up with a brainwave-measuring device.
  • Driving was simulated with several distractions, including talking to a passenger, listening to the radio, standard and hands-free cellphone conversations and using speech-to-text email.
  • Those using a hands-free device to make a call were only slightly less cognitively distracted than those using a handheld cellphone.
  • Talking to a passenger was just as distracting.
  • Those using speech-to-text devices were three times more distracted than those driving with no distractions or listening to the radio.

The conclusion was that voice-based interactions in the vehicle can have unintended consequences that negatively impact traffic safety. There was strong evidence that driving is not necessarily safe when the driver’s eyes are on the road and his or her hands are on the wheel if their mind is elsewhere. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that inattention is a major factor in about 25% of all vehicle accidents.

The problem lies in our inability to safely multi-task while driving, according to the National Safety Council, which reports:

  • 9% of drivers are using some type of cellphone at any one time.
  • 26% of car accidents involve drivers using cellphones, including those using hands-free devices.
  • While the brain can easily switch from one task to another, it can’t do two things at once well. Activity in the area of the brain that processes moving images decreases by a third when we listen to a phone.
  • Drivers looking out a windshield can miss up to 50% of what’s around them when speaking on any type of cellphone.

Public opinion hasn’t caught up with the research.  AAA polls have shown that about two-thirds of drivers believe using handheld electronics while driving is unacceptable, while 56% say using hands-free devices while driving is acceptable.

As hazardous as it is to drive a passenger vehicle while distracted by a cellphone, the dangers to others increase dramatically if the driver is behind the wheel of a commercial truck. These trucks don’t maneuver, stop or accelerate nearly as well as cars or light trucks. A distracted truck driver could maim or kill someone in an instant.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by a commercial truck in Kentucky, call the Julie Butcher Law Office at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form to talk about your case, applicable laws and your legal options.