As a heavy user of mobile technology, and the first TV journalist in New Zealand to own a cellphone (my contractual arrangement became a template for others down the track), I have both applause for the move to ban handheld cellphone use in cars, but also questions about it.
Firstly, I think all of us can attest to hair-raising moments involving cellphones and drivers. However, according to official police stats only 32 fatalities over the past six years can be attributed to cellphone use.
That's five people a year from a 400 per year road toll. I'm not convinced that this is a major road safety issue on those figures, especially as cellphone use has exploded over the past decade while the road toll is now hitting its lowest ever figures. Whilst the number of accidents involving phones has gone up, it is probably just a reflection of cellphone penetration of the market overall. The biggest distraction in a car, I've found, are children who don't understand the perils of driving and who therefore fight/squawk/ask questions at hazardous moments which adult passengers are sensitive to.
Secondly, the issue of handsfree kits. Now I've tried a few of these. I think plug in headphones are as unsafe as holding the phone in your hand - possibly more so. The cords are distracting, they can fall out as you turn your head prompting a further scramble.
I have a bluetooth handsfree kit (Sudio), which is effectively a loudspeaker/mic combo that replicates the early hard-wired car kits. I find this can be distracting as well, because ambient noise can require excessive concentration on the "handsfree" conversation.
The only mobile phone in-car set up that I have found utterly compatible with driving is the bluetooth earpiece. The lack of wires means I can listen to the conversation on the phone but have utterly unrestricted movement of my head and arms which is of course essential for driving.
It is not the conversation that distracts, so much as the subsconscious restrictions of having to either hold something, or keep your head close to a loudspeaker, or restrict your movements so wires don't become entangled.