According to a new study by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), using a hands-free mobile phone system while driving is equally as distracting as holding the device in your hand.

For the study, the university’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety (CARRS-Q) used its own in-house driving simulator, measuring the effects of mobile phone use on driver safety including reaction time and driving performance. The virtual simulation included a pedestrian entering the driver’s peripheral vision from a walking path, before proceeding to cross the road.

“The reaction time of drivers participating in either a handheld or hands-free conversation was more than 40% longer than those not using a phone,” said Shimul Haque from QUT’s School of Civil Engineering and Built Environment.

“In real terms this equates to a delayed response distance of about 11 m for a vehicle travelling at 40km/h,” he continued, adding that student drivers required double the reaction time of fully-licensed drivers.

The concentration or cognitive load required to hold a phone conversation is the main cause of the distraction, Haque stated, adding that it wasn’t so much on whether the driver was holding a phone in their hands.

“Distracted drivers on average reduced the speed of their vehicle faster and more abruptly than non-distracted drivers, exhibiting excess braking. While the driver is likely to be compensating for the perceived risk of talking and driving, the abrupt or excessive braking by distracted drivers poses a safety concern to following vehicles,” Haque said.

“Again these findings highlight a need to consider mobile phone use laws in response to interventions to reduce rear-end crashes,” he added in the report by CarAdvice. Which beggars the question: should mobile phone use while driving be banned completely?