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Driving with Mobile Devices: "Hands-Free" or Not?

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By Frank R. Myers

Hands-free devices were introduced to help make mobile communications quicker, easier, and safer. But is there a place for these devices when driving emergency vehicles?

According to, hands-free does not mean risk-free. Devices such as speech-based technologies in cars can overload drivers, taking their attention from the road and making an accident more likely, experts say.
In a WebMD article, Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, points out that brains aren't wired to multitask. "It's virtually impossible for the brain to do two complex things at the same time," he said. Multitasking can lead to "inattention blindness," which occurs when people are concentrating on one thing and don't see other things going on around them.

Even though there is voice recognition for texting and dialing, it is not 100 percent reliable. Therefore, the best bet is not to use hands-free devices at all. There are a number of apps designed to combat the issue of distracted driving, many of which can be activated once you actually start driving. Your mobile phone service provider can assist you with finding one or may even have its own that you can utilize.

If someone is texting you, these apps automatically reply with a message stating that you are driving and cannot talk at the moment. Some vehicles and apps provide similar options for incoming phone calls.

As an emergency responder, the communications you receive are often urgent. If you must respond immediately to an important call or text, the best course of action is either to have an officer in the passenger’s seat respond for you or, if you must answer yourself, to pull into a safe zone such as the side of the road or a parking lot. Do not leave yourself exposed to the moving traffic in the roadway. However, the best option for emergency responders is for everyone’s eyes to be on and stay on the road – scanning forward, sideways, and backwards using direct line of sight and mirrors – and staying off cell phones, tablets, and hands-free devices while in motion. Many times your passengers will catch something that prevents an accident from occurring. In all situations, be sure to comply with your department’s standard operating procedures.

If you are driving, do just that. Concentrate on driving, road conditions, and other vehicles around you. The text, phone call, and radio communications can often wait! When they can’t, pull off the road until you have responded. Be safe!

About the Author:
Frank R. Myers is a retired lieutenant with the City of Miami (FL) Fire Rescue, where he served for 32 years. Before his retirement, Myers served at the Training Center for six years as the driver engineer instructor. He works as a consultant for, a technology service that helps fire departments across the country automate their apparatus, equipment, and inventory checks.

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