Are Two-Way Radios Really Safer Than Cell Phones When Driving?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned talking and texting without a hands free device on January 2, 2012. The law excludes CB and two-way radios due to the simple, one-button push operation of a radio where drivers do not have to take their eyes off the road.

Recently, we had the opportunity to test this theory at a customer’s site. We set up a small test track to see if radios are really safer to use while driving in comparison to talking or texting on a cell phone.

The track was comprised of three main sections:

  • Curvy road track
    • Driver to make and receive calls during this section
  • Accelerate and stop – 1/4 mile acceleration to 30 mph and stop
    • Driver to place a call when traveling at 30 mph, and stop at the stop sign
  • Left or Right swerve around a cone based on 100 foot warning
    • While on a call, driver to follow passenger’s instructions to swerve left or right

DOT researchers have classified distracted driving into four categories:

  • Visual (taking one’s eyes off the road)
  • Manual (taking one’s hands off the wheel)
  • Cognitive (thinking about something other than driving)
  • Auditory (listening to the radio or someone talking)

The DOT favors two-way radio over cell phones primarily due to the visual and manual aspects of distracted driving.

“The odds of being involved in a safety-critical event are three times greater when the driver is reaching for an object than when the driver is not reaching for an object. The odds of being involved in a safety-critical event are six times greater while the driver is dialing a cell phone than when the driver is not dialing a cell phone. These increases in risk are primarily attributable to the driver’s eyes being off the forward roadway.”



Test #1 – Driving While Talking on a Cell Phone

Brandy (the driver) was able to navigate the curvy road track fairly well. However, any question that required a cognitive task forced him to focus on one thing or the other (the road or the call). He couldn’t do it. He focused on the road (the smart thing to do) and the conversation suffered.


“So I wasn’t paying attention…I was kind of more like paying attention to the road…”

Devin Edwards (Boss):

“I could tell you weren’t paying attention to me…I mean not really…You were only really halfway in the conversation.”


“Because I was thinking!”

The ¼ mile acceleration and stop proved to be difficult. At 30 mph, looking down at a phone for 1 second equals travelling 50 feet. There was about 150 feet that was allowed for deceleration. The driver blew through the stop sign on 3 out of 5 laps.

The driver failed to swerve in the appropriate direction on 2 out of 5 laps on the cone test.


Test #2 – Driving While Texting

Driving while texting proved to be extremely difficult and unsafe. The driver failed all three tests and it was obvious how difficult it was to text and drive at the same time.


“You find yourself looking at your phone more than looking through your windshield”

Me as a passenger:

“That’s not good…”

Test #3 – Driving While Using TRBOWEST (Motorola MOTOTRBO Digital Two-Way Radio System)

Brandy passed the curvy track portion fairly easily. You will notice on the video that he never takes his eyes off of the road. It was also noticeable in person that it was less stressful to converse over the radio than on a cell phone. I don’t have any science behind it, just an observation.

Brandy missed the stop sign in 1 out of 5 laps. This highlights some of the distraction that any cognitive function adds to the equation.

Brandy swerved in the wrong direction in 1 out of 5 laps. Again, this test stresses the cognitive overload of driving, talking to his boss, and listening to a passenger.

To answer the question, our tests strongly suggest that using a two-way radio while driving is safer than using a cell phone. You should never text while driving. However, even a two-way radio can cause distracted driving.

Best practices for using two-way radio while driving:

  • Keep conversations brief and business related
  • Keep the speaker mic within an easy arm’s length from the driver. If you don’t have to unclip the mic, even better.
  • Keep the radio volume loud and constant. Don’t turn up and turn down your volume throughout the day.

Thank you to Speeds Towing who was gracious enough to provide the manpower, time, and equipment to facilitate the test!

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