Drivers using a hands-free phone can be just as dangerous on the roads as drink drivers, according to a new study.
The Government has been warned to consider stricter laws as the research revealed drivers are four times more likely to crash.
The discovery comes fifty years after the introduction of road-side breath tests to catch suspected drink drivers.
The research, led by Dr Gemma Briggs of The Open University, found that dual-tasking drivers took on average 1.6 seconds longer than undistracted drivers to react to unexpected, yet driving related, events.
The research, published in The Transportation Research Journal, found that when an unexpected event appeared in the peripheral area, those using hands-free phones reacted to less than half as many events.
Drivers using a hands-free phone also took an average of one second longer to react.
Experts behind the research have urged the Government to revise the legislation on using hands-free kits when at the wheel in light of the new evidence.
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said:
“We think the law should include hands-free phones. Although it is very difficult for the police to detect drivers using hands-free phones just by observation, they can see if a person’s driving is affected because they are distracted, and for more serious crashes or offences, phone records can be checked.”
Though tougher penalties are in place for drivers caught using hand-held mobiles, the use of hands-free kits is not illegal, despite it being equally distracting.
Patrick Maguire, a road traffic accident solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers, said: “I have seen countless cases where people have been killed or seriously injured in accidents caused by the driver being distracted by their mobile phone. Anything that reduces that risk is to be welcomed, but first we must address the huge numbers of people who still think it's acceptable to text or speak on their phone while not using hands-free which is and has been illegal for quite some time.”
In June, 2016, road safety campaigners called for a complete ban on drivers using mobiles after a study showed that hands-free devices pose as big a risk as hand-held phones.
Psychologists at the University of Sussex revealed that simply having a conversation makes drivers’ reaction times slower, leading to a higher risk of failing to spot hazards on the road.