UK Government Report Raises Specter of Hands-Free Comms Ban

Studies showing that using a hands-free phone car connection is more dangerous than drive-driving has prompted calls by a UK government committee to ban the technology.

For years safety experts have criticized the use of hands-free communication including voice assistants and now government investigators are recommending urgent action. In a report by an independent government committee, the Transport Select Committee, chaired by Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, tightening the laws around using a hands-free mobile while driving include much more draconian penalties for transgressors. Currently the restrictions only govern using a hand-held phone while driving, with hands-free calling or talking to an electronic device is not regulated at all.

The possibility of banning the technology calls into question all the other driver interactive connected car facilities currently being employed through most carmakers’ on-board infotainment systems. A prospect of the driver being completely isolated these distracting technologies threatens the existing infotainment industry should the UK’s possible legislation be followed by other European countries.

Dr Shaun Helman, chief scientist at Transport Research Laboratory, says that we have been “misled” by the terms ‘hands-free’ and ‘hand-held’. “First, the phrase ‘hands-free’ misleads us by making us think that if a task ‘leaves the hands free’ then it will not be distracting. The TRL research and others have shown that this is certainly not the case; there are many types of distraction (the other two main ones being visual – where you are looking, and cognitive – what you are thinking about). Second, the phrase ‘hand-held’ misleads us by making us think that it is the ‘holding’ a device that is the worst thing to be doing with the hands while driving. It isn’t; there are many other ways in which a driver can manipulate a device and which are much more likely to cause a crash – texting, browsing social media, scrolling through app functions and so-on.”

However, the charity IAM RoadSmart says that a tightening of the rules surrounding the use of hands-free mobiles while driving would be difficult or impossible to enforce. “The charity cannot see how any ban can be enforced, with a lack of police numbers meaning drivers feel they won’t get caught.”

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