Monday, March 31, 2008

Hands-Free Legislation a Boon for Bluetooth Headsets?

Cellular safety got some recent media attention from New York Times (“Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)” 3/9/08). In the article, Ben Blanton, student at Vanderbilt University, was quoted as saying, “I can text without looking at the phone. It’s definitely not safe. Sometimes I’ll look up and I don’t remember where I’ve been driving.”

The next day, the USA Today reported in “Merely listening on phone shown to distract drivers” that, according to Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association,
“Allowing hands-free phones really gives drivers a false sense of safety." The article went on to say that he had seen no evidence that bans on handheld phones have prevented accidents.

These articles point to the dangers of texting or talking while driving. Several states have enacted legislation to ban hand-held cell phone conversations. Phoenix is the first city in the nation to ban texting while driving.

Marketers in the Bluetooth headset space have caught on to the timeliness of this legislation and the role their products will play in helping consumers continue to talk on their cell phones with both hands on the wheel. For instance, in a Mobile World Congress announcement for the Plantronics Explorer 360A, Plantronics wrote:

Enhancing Driver Safety

With an increasing number of U.S. states and municipalities enacting legislation that requires drivers use a hands-free device while driving, Plantronics is also bundling the Explorer 360 with a unique “elbow” car charger that fits within most car cigarette lighters. The Explorer 360A with car charger delivers a continuously charged Bluetooth headset that is always within easy reach and line-of-sight for the driver.

Plantronics has also published Safe Driving Tips on their website.

Motorola has also come out with information as a part of its Drive Safe, Call Smart program. But the reports coming out claim that any conversations while driving -- whether those are hands-free or hand-held -- are dangerous to drivers. According to the USA Today article referencing the journal Brain Research, MRI brain scans of drivers found a 37% decrease in perietal lobe activity for drivers while talking on cell phones.

So, on one hand legislation is favoring the providers of hands-free Bluetooth headsets (Jabra, Plantronics, Logitech, Jawbone), but the news is reporting that any coversation on a cell phone is going to weaken a driver's abilities regardless of whether both hands are on the wheel.

The communications challenge for any of the headset providers: if they come out strongly for their products as the solution for those who don't want to get ticketed in New Jersey and other states for talking on the phone, then they risk going against scientific findings that any communication is risky.

Challenges are opportunities for companies to become thought leaders. And crafting a strong message about overall cellular safety is something that Bluetooth headset manufacturers have yet to really do. As long as they continue to maintain radio silence on this critical issue, they risk appearing like opportunists who are taking advantage of legislation to sell more products.

In Europe, legislation has already banned almost all usage of cell phones in vehicles (hands-free or hand-held). If the US decides to follow their lead, what will the repercussions be for providers of this bridging technology?

1 comment:

aileen said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.