Hands-Free Necessary?

Hands-free an option for older phone and older car?

At 60 MPH it takes a car 369 feet to stop. This is longer than a football field. The graph shows stopping distances at lower speeds too.
The End Zone for Smartphones… Perception, Reaction and Stopping.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I saw signs on the highway (in Mass) saying phones must now be hands-free. Is this really necessary or is this just another dumb law? I have an older phone and an older car and I don’t see the need for this myself. Omar, Georgetown

Dear Omar: Think about it this way: if you have surgery you hope that the doctors are not talking on cellular phones or reading the newspaper when they operate. They will be paying full attention to what they are doing. The National Safety Council classes reminds us that driving requires all of your attention and uses all of your senses. In both cases, there is a life at stake, your own. 

That said, so many drivers use smartphones while they drive. The AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index for 2018 found that about 52 percent of motorists had recently talked on a handheld cellphone, 41 percent had read a message and 32 percent had typed or sent a message. 

The Three Sins of Sims:

There are three ways that the smartphone can distract you in the car. The first is obvious. Manual distraction occurs when you need to reach for the phone, fumble with it, or press in numbers. Many states, like yours, have bans. There is visual distraction, say taking your eyes off the road so that you can read a text or type in a number. It goes hand-in-hand (pun intended) with manual distraction. Finally, there is cognitive distraction, which most drivers seem to attribute to the other drivers on the road, not to themselves.

Distraction 101

According to the NHTSA, phone conversations of any type increase reaction time and increase variations in speed, lane deviations, and steering wheel control.

When conversing on mobile devise, either hand held or hands free, drivers increase their risk of a crash two to four times. 

Drivers talking on hands-free cell phones miss visual cues critical to safety and navigation. Their divided attention leads them to miss exists, go through red lights and stop signs and ignore important navigational signage.

And a twist of the Wrist…

To be compliant with the new law, you will probably need to mount the phone on or near the dashboard, assuming there is no audio-connection.  Since you said you had an older phone and an older car, I’d be concerned that the phone may go-to-sleep while you drive and you might then need to wake it by typing in a password code. That would definitely take your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, and ultimately your attention too. It violates the intention of this new law. 

Fake News and Smartphones

A prankster creates Fake Road Traffic with a set of Smartphones…

A quirky picture of a red kids wagon that is as big as a car and has a motor.
A Street Ready Wagon found on Ebay built by John Davis of Cornelius, OR.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I saw on social media that you can use your phone to create a fake news traffic jam? I live in a neighborhood that gets a lot of traffic and I could use my phone to divert it. What do you think? Hani, Cambridge.

Dear Hani,

Let me start my saying that I don’t know how to reverse engineer it, but your phone is always used to monitor traffic. Most people don’t know this, but services like StreetLight data collect location data from your phone. Then they aggregate it and sell it to cities and towns that need to report traffic patterns. 

You can take steps to minimize what your phone sends by turning off GPS and Bluetooth. Most importantly, look through your apps and turn off permissions for location-data. You will be surprised how many apps are sending location data: apps  for cooking, meditation, shopping, etc.

Maps Need Data- You Need Maps

That said, you must allow location data when you use your phone for navigation, say when you open Google Maps or Waze. 

The incident you are referring to on social media was one I did not want to draw attention to for fear that it would spread through more channels. But, since you asked here is a brief summary. I will not add more fuel by gracing it with a picture!

Little Red Wagons

A performance and installation artist in Germany took a red wagon (think Radio Flyer) and filled it with 99 smart phones. Each one had the GPS activated so when he pulled the wagon on a side street  the color coded traffic map ‘summed’ 99 pings and registered “red” for traffic congestion. 

Google quickly issued a response (Yes!). It begins, “whether via car or cart or camel, we love seeing creative uses of Google Maps as it helps us make maps work better over time.”  They add that they will be improving the algorithm to detect wagons versus cars.

Circle the Wagons too..

There are a few ways to look at this fake news story. First, kudos to Google for being polite and responsive to the wagonneer. Next, get on the wagon with your GPS turned off…or perhaps, GPS turned on, mindfully.

*9to5Google is not an official Google newsletter. It is a blog written about Google and other technology. This can be confusing (almost fake news!)

Dual Phone Dual Life

There is a way to untangle the hot mess of home & work merging together on phones.

A company called bluetach sells little stress balls in the shape of a chair.This is a picture of three of them- one is orange, one is red, one is blue. The phone sits on the red one.
bluetack.com. Personalized stress chairs on order for stressful lives.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: When I am at work I get calls from my kids and when I am at home my boss calls me. I have different ringtones for everyone, but it is still driving me crazy. And, I don’t want to carry two phones.  How do I bring order to this? Carey, Boston.

Dear Carey: Let me begin with the picture, which depicts three chairs, one holding an Iphone. The chairs are are actually little stress balls and presumably useful when we have to answer a call! Like the three chairs, or the three bears, many of us have trouble filling all our roles. However, there is a technological fix that could help.


Last year Apple introduced a phone that allows users to have two different phone numbers on the same phone, so you can separate your work and home lines. The phone lines can be from different carriers too, say T-Mobile and Verizon. This two-line functionality  is now standard on the iPhone11, but truly, so few people talk about it that it seems like a ‘secret’ feature.

Your contacts and calendar can be configured for either account. You can set the phone that is used for work to go straight to email, say after 6pm or on vacation. No more work-calls buzzing while you are trying to help the kids with their homework.

Sim Not:

Android phones should have this feature too so check the functionality with your phone carrier. In the past this required a device that held two SIM cards, but I don’t think that is the case anymore. 

Working around the clock, whether at home or at the office, seems to be a modern epidemic. While you still have to set the boundaries, e.g., when you must respond to a text from work, the dual phone might help you establish a digital fence around your home and work life. It will be interesting to see whether your boss will agree to pay for the second phone line and I personally think that managers should do so as a modern cost of doing business.