Hands-Free Calling Solutions for Your Car

A driver nonchalantly swerves in front of you, seeming not to notice your vehicle at all. You pass the vehicle to give the driver a dirty look and — surprise — he’s talking on his cell phone, oblivious to everything around him.

Distracted driving is estimated to be associated with 15 to 25 percent of crashes, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The big question: Can hands-free calling systems help drivers maintain their focus? And what options are there for hands-free calling in your car?

Why go hands-free?

In many cases, it’s the law. States are increasingly passing laws to ban or restrict the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. According to the GHSA, as of February 2014 12 states — plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands — prohibit all drivers from driving while using hand-held phones. Forty-one states, plus those four other localities, prohibit texting while driving. The list of no-phone states will only grow, as the GHSA and other groups lobby state legislatures to pass new restrictions.

Is it really safer to use a hands-free phone while driving?

The experts disagree on this one. A 2013 hands-free calling study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety monitored drivers’ brain waves and found that those making hands-free phone calls were only slightly less distracted those holding a phone.

In another study, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute continuously recorded the actions and cell phone records of 204 drivers for an average of 31 days. The institute’s report, released in April 2013, found that simply talking on a cell phone, of any type, didn’t seem to increase a driver’s risk of crashes or near crashes. Performing visual-manual tasks — in other words, glancing at your phone or dialing a number — did increase that risk. However, the study found that even hands-free phone users were frequently observed having manual interactions with their phone. More accidents lead to higher auto insurance premiums (among other, arguably more terrible outcomes), which lead to lighter wallets for all of us.

Hands-free calling options in new cars

Integrated hands-free calling was once only available on luxury cars, but now even budget-priced compacts offer this technology.  Carmakers typically include hands-free calling and other ways to integrate your phone as part of their proprietary infotainment systems. Here are a few options:

  • Ford SYNC features phone voice control and instant transfer of an ongoing call to the SYNC system as soon as you start your car.
  • Toyota’s Entune not only includes hands-free calling, but also allows access to mobile apps such as Bing, iHeartRadio, OpenTable and Pandora.
  • HondaLink underwent a 2014 upgrade to become HondaLink Next Generation, promising to “make your Honda as smart as your cell phone.”
  • GM has several different names for its connectivity technology: MyLink in Chevrolets, Intellilink in GMC and CUE in Cadillacs. GM also includes hands-free calling via OnStar services, which claims to be so reliable it gets service even in areas like deserts, mountains and natural disaster locations. The downside is that you have to pay an annual subscription fee for OnStar after the first year.

After-market hands-free calling solutions

It’s easy and inexpensive to add hands-free calling to an older car. All you need is a basic Bluetooth car kit. These vary in price and quality, however, so do your homework. Some Bluetooth kits require an AUX jack on your stereo, while others work via an FM transmitter.

  • The GoGroove FlexSMART X3 Bluetooth FM Transmitter is perhaps the most popular option, with buyers praising its ease of use and sound quality.
  • The Motorola Roadster 2 filters out road noise and allows users with some smartphones to listen to and dictate text messages.
  • The Belkin TuneBase Hands-Free FM Transmitter connects your smartphone to your car stereo through the radio and permits hands-free calls by pushing a button. Amazon reviewers criticize its clunky design, although they report the sound quality is good.

DIY hands-free calling solutions

Then again, why spend $50 to $100 on a hands-free calling system when you could just use the Bluetooth earpiece you already have? Or, you could adapt any earphones with an integrated microphone.

The catch: Many states prohibit wearing earphones while driving. Check this AAA list to find out what’s legal in your state. You may be able to drive with one earbud in, but not both.

If you have a knack for electronics hacks and a soldering iron, you can also try this Instructables step-by-step guide to assembling your own hands-free calling system

Car Technology Guide

Car technology is getting more advanced – it’s never been easier to get lost in your car console. We’re here to help. From bluetooth to wi-fi tethering, to carsharing schemes and even driverless cars – our Car Tech Guide will help you stay abreast of the latest developments happening in car technology.

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