Hands-free mobile kits 'just as dangerous for driving'

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The Independent Online

Using a hands-free mobile phone kit slows the reaction times of teenage drivers to those of old-age pensioners, according to new research. The findings reopen the debate about driving with hands-free mobile kits, which is currently legal in Britain.

Using a hands-free mobile phone kit slows the reaction times of teenage drivers to those of old-age pensioners, according to new research. The findings reopen the debate about driving with hands-free mobile kits, which is currently legal in Britain.

Scientists found that 18- to 25-year-olds talking on the phone reacted as slowly to brake lights from a car in front as 65- to 74-year-olds who were not talking. Research subjects were 18 per cent slower in braking and took 17 per cent longer to regain the speed they lost in braking.

Linda Morrison-Allsop, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said the study confirmed their adviceto the Government.

"People are going to die until a hands-free kit ban is put in force," she said "Because it's not illegal, people assume it is safe to drive with a hands-free phone kit. That just isn't the case."

Driving with mobile phones was banned in 2003, however, it is not illegal to use a hands-free kit while driving. The Government will soon double the fine for offenders to £60 and introduce three penalty points on licences.

But a spokesman for the Department for Transport said that a ban on hands-free mobile kits would be unenforceable: "Police would have to be lipreaders," he said.

Quentin Willson, former presenter of BBC motoring programme Top Gear, said: "The problem is that the cops just aren't there to enforce any kind of ban.

"The thing about 70-year-olds is that they have 50 years of experience to compensate for their slow reactions. Younger drivers don't."

A spokesman for Help the Aged said thestudy added to the prejudice against old people: "Being old is not necessarily dangerous. The use of hands-free mobile kits is."

Dr David Strater of the University of Utah, who conducted the research, said: "There's no difference in reaction time between hand-held phones and hands-free, so any legislation for hand- held [alone] is meaningless."

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