Attention deficit: Using hands-free while driving can cause ‘attentional blindness’ say experts Image Credit: Voisin/Phanie / Rex Features

Dubai: Hands-free calls while driving could soon be banned as the Ministry of Interior is working on regulations to limit use of smartphones and other electronic gadgets in cars, Gulf News can confirm.

A top ministry official confirmed to Gulf News on Monday that the new regulations would ban both Bluetooth-enabled calls as well as speaking on phone through earphones while a vehicle is on the move.

Major Khalfan Saeed Al Naqbi, Head of Traffic Planning and Policy at the ministry, said that several international studies have shown that speaking on the phone while driving impacts the way one drives and diverts the attention of a driver, irrespective of the fact whether one uses a handheld device, a Bluetooth-enabled device or speaking through a headphone.

Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the Vehicle Safety Conference at Intercontinental Festival City on Monday in Dubai, Major Al Naqbi said: “Use of phones either through Bluetooth or headphones impacts driving. Whether one uses the hands or not, speaking on the phone can have an adverse impact depending on what is spoken. It could make the driver angry or cause him stress and that adversely impacts his driving. This is why we working on updating our regulations on phone use.”

He added that apart from phones there are too many handheld smart gadgets that are are used by people every day and the regulations are being updated to cover all those devices that impact driving.

“Road accident data has shown us that use of some electronic devices impacts driving and that is the reason why we are working on regulations or ways that will limit the use of gadgets like Google Glass, smart watches as well as other telematics that are installed in vehicles,” he said.

Al Naqbi informed that the changes are being initiated at the GCC level.

“We are dicussing with the traffic authorities of all the regional countries so that there is some uniformity in regulations across the region. All GCC countries are closely connected and vehicles cross borders regularly so it is necessary to have the changes at the regional level,” he added.

He also said that apart from bringing in new regulations, the ministry is working on ways to ensure the rules are implemented.

“We have involved university students as well as experts to develop an app that will automatically block the use of phones or other smart devices while a person is driving. We have also tried using jammers, but we are not convinced about jammers because we found that they can have adverse health impacts,” he said.

Al Naqbi said that the ministry is conducting regular workshops to try out multiple options that can help limit use of phones and smart gadgets while driving.

Last year, UAE witnessed 675 deaths in road accidents, and use of mobile phones continues to be one of the biggest causes of accidents, second only to speeding.

According to a study, a legal hands-free device makes a driver at least four times more likely to have an accident and has a 15-minute concentration lag effect.

Physical use of smartphones makes driver up to 22 times more likely to cause an accident and is more than three times dangerous than drink driving.

The first Vehicle Safety Conference, organised by the Ministry of Economy, discussed various aspects of vehicle safety, including inspection, maintenance, standards, etc. The conference saw attendance by industry leaders as well as regulators.