The National Safety Council’s discussion of cell phone use and driving may surprise you, but by making a few changes, you could save your life and make driving more pleasurable. The council urges us all to make a pledge to drive without using our cell phones in the car, not even hands-free. Here’s why: Cell phones, whether hands-free or handheld, increase the risk of crashes fourfold. The risk associated with talking hands-free is about equal to the risk of using a handheld phone. Surprised? Also interesting is that talking on the phone in the car may be as risky and distracting as drunk driving. Texting, of course, is already well-known as a risky behavior leading to crashes.  

I found the argument against talking on a hands-free phone pretty compelling, so I’ve made the pledge myself. And here are some more good reasons that go beyond mere safety:

When not engaged with your phone, you’re more likely to be in a relaxed, alert state, one that recent research suggests is ripe with creativity. Your best ideas are more likely to occur if you let the commute be phone-free.
If you do have passengers, you can actually connect with them personally. While conversations in the car can also be a distraction, your passenger is aware of the surroundings. A person physically in the car with you is more likely to compensate when driving conditions become challenging, thus helping you keep from getting distracted.
Driving without distractions is an opportunity to practice mindfulness, which has benefits that translate to other areas of your life. By being mindful (i.e. paying close but relaxed attention to the task of driving and allowing yourself to enjoy this state of relaxed alertness), you can learn to be more focused and aware of yourself and your surroundings. Apply this same focus to relationships, work and play, and life naturally becomes richer and more fulfilling. 

Here’s some tips from Maria Gonzalez, writing for the Harvard Business Review, on mindful driving:

  • Focus your attention on the road ahead, your hands on the wheel and foot on the pedal.
  • Whenever your mind wanders, just gently coax it back to the present — the road and your body doing its driving task.
  • Try re-focusing with an open, non-judgmental mindset. Of course judgment will appear but just keep gently re-focusing again and again, letting yourself be present.


If you want to learn more about mindfulness and explore other ways to apply it to your life, consider trying a mind-body medicine session at Bastyr University Clinic or Bastyr Center for Natural Health