Citing statistics that showed "more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents," the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that drivers be banned not just from texting while driving but also placing any kind of call, even hands-free, while behind the wheel. While it remains to be seen what individual states will do with the recommendation, right now nine states do require hands-free mobile use.
But the fact is many people -- myself included -- do feel the need to make use of driving time to make calls and listen to voice mail. Polls show that large majorities favor at least a ban on texting while driving, but admit they use their phones in the car anyhow.
In an effort to keep both my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road, I make good use of the latest Bluetooth headsets, especially the ones that not only listen to me, but talk to me as well. Here are two I've found that answer the call.
Plantronics Voyager Pro HD: $99
The Plantronics Voyager Pro HD is smart enough to know when I'm driving and want to use the headset. By simply placing it on my ear, it sends my call from the handset to the headset. It also feels like I'm actually talking to someone, because the long boom mic actually comes close to my mouth, instead of leaving me talking into noisy, traffic-filled air.
The Voyager Pro comes with a year of Vocalyst service, Plantronics' voice and text service that lets you listen to your email, check the weather or, if you really must, update your Facebook status just by talking into the headset. After the first year, you'll have to pay $24.99 per year to keep the service. If you like to listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the car as well as music, the headset supports A2DP so you can listen to any streaming audio you have on your phone. When a call comes in, the audio is paused. Same thing happens when you remove the headset from your ear. It knows you've stopped listening, and it pauses.
Voice alerts announce your talk time, volume, and other functions. I especially like that I can ask it how close I am to low battery, so I know when I need to bring it in and charge it back up. The Plantronics headset looks bigger and bulkier than most others I've used but it fits comfortably over my ear, and listens to everything I need.
Sound ID Six: $129
If you're in the market for a smaller headset without the boom mic, the Sound ID Six might be a good fit.
It fits snugly in your ear, rather than over it, and comes with different size tips to choose from. The headset works in conjunction with a free app, EarPrint 3.0 for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. The app lets you access features such as the voice command menu, and control settings to personalize your listening preferences without having to use the headset. Voice announcements let you know who's calling. The VoiceMenu can be used to verbally access voicemail, search Bing, get 411 information, and even dial phone numbers.
For those of us who sometimes lose our headsets deep in the crevices of the car, there's a 'find my headset' button which sends a loud pitch to the headset, letting you retrieve the wayward device, even in the dark.