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Popular belief is that bluetooth technology provides drivers with a much safer way to operate on the roadways. The correlation between hands-free driving and safety makes sense: you maintain two hands on the wheel at all times and have no need to press buttons or look down. However, a fascinating study conducted by Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters" revealed that your focus when driving hands-free may be as just as impacted as driving with a phone in your hand.

An article in the Washington Post explained the MythBusters study, which was conducted at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The study used a 360-degree virtual driving simulator connected to a real car to measure driver behavior when presented with a variety of common obstacles, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and unleashed dogs.

The results were striking. Of the 30 virtual drivers involved in the study, only 2 passed a driving test while talking on a cell phone. Among the 15 drivers using handsets, one passed, five failed by driving the wrong way, and nine failed by crashing. With nearly identical results among the 15 drivers using hands-free technology, one passed, six failed by driving the wrong way, and eight failed by crashing.

The study, which can be watched on the Discovery Channel website, led the MythBusters to conclude that there is a negligible difference between the safety of hand-held versus hands-free driving. The National Safety Council (NSC) seems to agree, reporting that over 25 percent of all car crashes involve a driver using a cell phone, including hands-free devices.

After evaluating more than 30 research studies and reports by scientists around the world, the NSC concluded that hands-free phones are no safer than handheld devices and they do not in any way improve driver performance. The lack of difference is attributed to cognitive distraction, which occurs when paying attention to a conversation, regardless of the mechanism through which the voice on the line is heard or responded to.

New Jersey law does not reflect these findings. In New Jersey, drivers can face fines ranging from $200 to $800 if for talking or texting on hand-held wireless communication devices and repeat offenders may even be subject to a period of driver's license suspension. Conversely, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission states, "although it is discouraged, drivers may use a hands-free device if it does not interfere with standard safety equipment."

The fact that New Jersey does not punish hands-free driving with traffic citations does not preclude injured drivers from seeking compensation if they are injured in auto accidents caused by distracted drivers. In fact, distracted driving in any form, including talking on a hands-free communication device, may constitute negligence if it leads to an accident. The inability to react and respond to impediments, changes in driving conditions, or the behavior of other drivers can lead to accidents involving pedestrians, bicyclists, and other cars.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a motor vehicle accident and you suspect the other driver may have been distracted, it is highly advisable to consult with a knowledgeable New Jersey personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Contact to Law Offices of Smith & Doran at 973-261-6254 to discuss your case and receive a cost-free consultation.

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