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Can't hold your cellphone? Technology to the rescue

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 10. 2014 9:57PM

Even if a new state law significantly restricts use of phones while driving, don't expect commuters to stop making calls. There might, however, be an increase in sales of hands-free mobile devices.

"They do make great gifts," said Brandon Palazzo, a Geek Squad and Mobile Devices Sales Lead at the Best Buy in the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester.

Palazzo said most of these devices use Bluetooth technology, which allows computers, phones, headsets, tablets and the like to communicate wirelessly over short distances, typically within 33 feet.

Palazzo said Bluetooth headsets are popular and cost from $25 for a low-end model to $150 or more.

"They're very portable, so your phone conversation doesn't need to end in the car," said Palazzo. "... A decent one, with some noise-canceling ability and wireless capability, should run about $60 for most people."

Not everyone wants a headset.

"Some people can't wear them, or have a hard time with them, especially anyone with a hearing aid or that wears glasses," said Palazzo. "A good alternative can be a portable hands-free car kit, like an external speaker for your phone, which allows drivers to keep their hands on the wheel using voice-recognition technology."

Drivers speak commands such as "Call," "Answer" or "Ignore." Calls can be placed by directing the system to call an entry in a contact list.

"With some devices, you can have it read you text messages, but most of them just allow you to answer and make a phone call hands-free," said Palazzo.

Portable car kits cost from $40 to $100 and often attach to a vehicle's visor, he said.

Professionally installed car kits integrate with a car's stereo system. Because they are integrated, Palazzo said, when a driver gets a call, the radio mutes and the caller's voice is heard through the audio system. Some systems display caller I.D. and allow drivers to stream music wirelessly via Bluetooth.

These units typically cost a few hundred dollars, and the basic installation charge is $75.

Palazzo said they can be transferred easily from vehicle to vehicle if desired.

For older phone handsets without Bluetooth capability, wired headsets are an option. They plug directly into the phone.

"You won't have wireless capability, but you can push a button on the wires to answer calls and operate it that way," said Palazzo.

On Friday, Zach Cook of Manchester was looking over the selection of Bluetooth devices at Best Buy.

"I just like the idea of hands-free use of my phone, it has nothing to do with the ban," said Cook. "I think it's a good idea, but I would be here anyway looking at these."

Outside the store, Robin Melchionda of Candia said she wasn't excited about the impending ban.

"I guess I'll have to get a headset and learn how to use it," said Melchionda. "At least I have a few months."

A recent AAA study concluded use of hands-free devices still results in distracted driving.

"Even when a driver's eyes are on the road and hands are on the wheel, sources of cognitive distraction cause significant impairments to driving," said AAA Northern New England spokesman Pat Moody.

AAA supports laws banning texting while driving, full wireless bans for teen drivers and increased penalties for distracted driving.

AAA also supports educational efforts to inform drivers of the safest practices related to cellphone and smartphone use, including encouraging drivers not to use such devices.

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