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ROAD & TRAVEL Safety Advice: Going Wireless In Your Car

Hands-Free Phone Kits Help Reduce Cell Phone Distraction

You’ve seen them roaming the airport and driving in the car beside yours, gabbing obnoxiously into thin air from one side, wireless cell phone headset attached to the ear on the other side. While some of us find the undirected chatter annoying, others can’t live without their wireless devices. Thanks to wireless compatibility, like the most often used Bluetooth technology – the wireless connection that makes a headset able to transmit to a cell phone – we’ve found ourselves with a seemingly new cure for the “that-#@%!-driver-is-on-his-cell-phone!” frustrations.

A landmark study released this spring by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute documented that 80% of traffic accidents are caused by driver distraction and that young drivers were four times more likely to be involved in a crash. The study showed that about 65 percent of near-crashes stemmed from driver inattention in the three seconds before the event.

The increasing use of cell phones while driving is a major concern. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that at any time of day 6 percent of drivers on U.S. roads in 2005 were using hand-held phones -- double the rate that was observed 5 years ago. The highest phone use rate in 2005 (10 percent) was among drivers 16 to 24 years old.

"It's troubling that the youngest drivers are the most likely to be talking on phones," says Anne McCartt, vice president-research, Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. "These drivers already have higher crash rates than older drivers, including higher fatal crash rates, and the last thing they need is the distraction of a phone."

The Institute says that accidents may increase with cell phone use because drivers are more likely to take their hands off the steering wheel or eyes off the road when dialing a phone or answering it.

Rightly so, many states (such as Connecticut, New Jersey and New York) and cities (like Chicago) have begun passing laws which make it illegal for drivers to be using handheld cell phones. In such cases, the only option for people who need to use the phone while in the driver’s seat is that of wireless connection. With a Bluetooth compatible phone, there are a few different ways to obtain wireless connection in your vehicle.

To reduce distraction and comply with the new laws, consumers are more rapidly choosing wireless, Bluetooth(R) hands-free devices that allow them to use their phones without having to hold them and manufacturers' growing sales figures bear this out.

"Our month over month sales continue to climb reflecting a growing need for consumers to make a smart choice while driving," says Edward Valdez, president of Parrot, Inc., a leading innovator of Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone car kits. "Drivers need to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel and our hands-free car kits help them do that."

Essentially, there are four types of hands-free devices motorists can use with a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. The best ones feature true voice recognition technology that allows you to make and take phone calls with voice commands.

  • Plug-and-play devices that plug into the vehicle's 12-volt accessory outlet and have an integrated speaker.
  • Wireless headsets for use both in and out of their vehicle.
  • A speaker-phone device that clips to the driver's sun visor.
  • A professionally or factory-installed car kit that is integrated into your vehicle’s sound system and works through its speakers (Parrot makes a widely-used car kit).

To research, find or order a Bluetooth compatible phone or headset for yourself, check with your wireless carrier or visit one of these Bluetooth retailers:

Amazon Website
Plantronics Website
Mobile Planet Website

(Sources: Bluetooth SIG, Parrot)