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Hanging Up: When Hands-Free Isn't Enough

Studies show that distracted driving, whether it's caused by a text conversation with a friend or an unruly child in the back seat, is sometimes just as dangerous as drunk driving. Illinois's ban on texting while driving begins in 2010, but even hands-free talking - on a bluetooth-enabled headset - isn't as safe as most people assume.

A study from the University of Utah claims drivers who drive while using their cell phones are "as bad as drunks."

While drivers who use cell phone hands-free headsets obviously are able to put both hands on the wheel, many of us drive with only one hand at the 12 o'clock position anyway.

And studies show that drivers who use hands-free headsets are only negligibly safer than those who hold a phone to their ears.

Most of the research in this area comes from psychologists who study the neuroscience behind the activity, one of whom told Salon.com that talking on the phone takes up as much as 40 percent of your attention.

As techonology eventually catches up to the reality that talking while driving isn't a good idea, a service called ZoomSafer uses a driver's GPS sensor to determine if the car is at driving speeds, then shuts the phone off if it is. Aegis Mobility and obdEdge offer similar services.

Most motorists probably wouldn't sign up to this technology voluntarily, but insurance companies and employers looking to decrease traffic accidents seem very interested.

One employer claims its ban on talking while driving reduced the accident rate on its fleet of 400 delivery trucks by 30 percent.