03/30/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dialing and Driving Is Deadly, Hands-Free or Otherwise

For some reason, when you set your cell phone to hands-free (blue tooth or speaker) you somehow feel justified talking and driving. Well, we're just going to come out and say it: You're absolutely not--no way, no how. Driving distractions are the No. 1 cause of accidents and cell phones--hand-held or hands-free--are the numero uno distraction.

Talking and texting while driving has become such an epidemic that the U.S. Department of Transportation with support from the National Safety Council has started a new campaign called Focus Driven which is, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "an army of people that will be traveling the country persuading people to put their cell phones away while they're driving."

Headed by a board of victims' family members (the president's mother was killed by a driver on his phone; the rest of the board lost their children), the organization is modeled after MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) in the hope that the same way MADD created a revolution against drinking and driving, Focus Driven can do the same for what is being called "distracted driving."

In answer to the "I drive hands-free not hand-held" mantra to which so many moms zipping around parking lots and commuter spots cling, Focus Driven says this: There is no cognitive difference (meaning awareness, judgment and perception) between talking hands-free or hand-held. It's just about the simple fact of the conversation. Our brain's focus is not wholly on the road (where it needs to be) when we are engaged in a tete-a-tete about work, pickup, play dates, homework or dinner plans, so concentration and response times are inhibited.

So if you thought you were doing your part (or just avoiding a ticket) by hitting speaker or connecting to Bluetooth, you were oh so wrong. Since 28 percent of accidents involve talking or texting, and one study has shown that distracted drivers had slower reaction times than drivers with 0.08 blood alcohol content, isn't it time you just powered off, let it go to voice mail, or pull over to say what just can't wait? Think also of the lessons you'll be sending your children when it's their turn behind the wheel.

Dish with us: Do you talk or text while you drive?