Thursday, 20 Sep, 2007 Offbeat
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Hands-Free Phones - More Dangerous for Drivers than Alcoholic Drinks

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Drivers talking on mobile phones, including hands-free phones, are more dangerous than drink-drivers. Those chatting at the wheel, even using hands-free devices, are four times more likely to get into a car crash and their reaction is on average 30 per cent slower than the reaction of drinkers at the legal limit and 50 per cent slower than the reaction of sober drivers. According to the experts, the distraction is caused not by the holding of the mobile phone but by the concentration on the talk.

In Britain, it is not prohibited by law to use hands-free car kits, but if the use of a phone becomes a contributory factor in a road accident, the driver can still be prosecuted by police. It is illegal for drivers to use a hand-held phone, and the drivers who illegally use the phones are punished by a 60-pound fine and three points on the driver's license. Still, a lot of drivers flout the law.

These findings have initiated a campaign to urge drivers switch off their mobile phones when they are at the wheel. However, ministers consider the campaign to outlaw hands-free phones to be legally impractical for reasons of evidence-gathering.

The campaigners do not suggest a complete ban on hands-free kits, they want the Government place a greater emphasis on warning drivers that talking at the wheel while using a hands-free device is as dangerous as drinking. They stress that a telephone conversation tends to be long-lasting and, requires a greater commitment and concentration from the driver.

According to the results of study carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory, at any one time 2.5 per cent of drivers are talking on the phone while at the wheel, and two-thirds illegally use hand-held phones. As for the drivers in London, the figures are even higher, reaching 4.8 per cent of van drivers and 3.7 per cent of car drivers using the phone at any time.

Research by America's Ohio State University proves that pedestrians are also subjected to the increased risk of getting into an accident when using a mobile phone. The tests indicated that 48 per cent of mobile phone users crossed the road in front of fast-approaching cars, compared with only 25 per cent of pedestrians not using their phones and 16 per cent of iPod users.

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