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Are Hands-Free Cell Phones Safer for Drivers than Hand-Held Phones?

Under New Jersey law, use of a hand-held cell phone is strictly prohibited. Drivers face fines ranging from $200 to $400 for a first offense, $400 to $600 for a second offense and $600 to $800 for a third offense. The third offense may also result in a three-point license penalty and a suspension of the driver’s license for 90 days. However, hands-free devices are perfectly legal. This naturally raises the question of whether hands-free devices are that much safer than the hand-held variety.

In 2013, the last year for which the New Jersey Department of Transportation has released complete statistics, there were 1,799 total crashes and 563 injury crashes related to hand-held cellphone use. These accounted for 790 total injuries and four fatalities.

In that same year, there were a greater number of total crashes, 1,858, related to hands-free cellphone use. Injury crashes numbered 454, accounting for 690 injuries and two fatalities.

Although the statistics for 2014 are incomplete, once again the greater number of total crashes is related to hands-free devices, 2,081, rather than hand-held, 1,679. Hands-free devices leads in the number of injury crashes, 529 to 497, and the total number injured, 760 to 727. However, hand-held devices are involved in significantly more fatal accidents, six to one.

If we look at the total number of injury crashes in New Jersey for 2013, which is 61,986, we see that hand-held cellphone use was a factor in 563 of them, or 0.86 percent. Hands-free cellphones were a factor in 454, or 0.73 percent. In 2014, total injury crashes are currently calculated at 54,102. Hand-held devices were related to 0.91 percent of injury crashes and hands-free devices were involved in 0.97 percent of injury crashes.

How do we account for the remarkable similarity of these numbers, and do they give us a clear picture of the relative safety of the devices? Are hand-held and hands-free cellphones equally dangerous? One could argue that since hand-held devices are illegal, drivers use them rarely, and since hands-free devices have become common place, drivers use them more often. So hand-held crashes represent a higher frequency of accidents during use than hands-free crashes. Unfortunately, there’s no way of measuring how often drivers illegally use their phones.

One conclusion we could draw is that the problem is not in our hands, but in our minds. Car crashes occur because people make bad decisions, and having an extra hand on the wheel won’t help if our mind is not on our driving. It could be that distraction from the conversation is the culprit, and so, no matter what type of device we use, we should use it sparingly.

If you have any questions about your rights after an auto accident, speak to an experienced attorney at Brown, Novick & McKinley. To schedule a free consultation in Woodbury, New Jersey, call 866-942-4909 or contact us online.