So you’ve done the safest thing for your baby and bought one of CarseatBlog’s Recommended Carseats.  You’ve installed it correctly and buckled-up your child properly at the pickup line from daycare.  What’s next for your most precious cargo?  Take a few swigs from the container of vodka in the glove compartment to relax your nerves before the drive home?  Roll up the windows and smoke a celebratory cigarette in one hand as you drive away with your baby and pre-schooler in back?  Hand the crying infant a rattle comprised of a bottle of pills from mom’s purse?  Let your bored 4-year old play with the clever tools in a 24-function utility knife from dad’s pocket?  Sound silly?  Then why do so many people get their kids buckled-up, then proceed to pick up their cellphone and start dialing a call?  Even as they drive through the pick-up line with dozens of other kids running around!

It seems insane sometimes.  Watching erratic driving at schools, pediatrician’s office parking lots, near residential parks, you name it.  The reason is almost always the same.  The driver has a phone in one hand, held up to their ear, completely absorbed in conversation while they totally oblivious to others on the road. Maybe you’ve seen the unthinkable, too?  A teen driver with, like, both hands texting on the wheel.  Just sayin’! Or, the adult with a phone in one hand, and in the other hand is a cigarette, a sandwich or a hairbrush and barely the palm of one hand resting on top of the wheel.   OMG.  Some peeps are too important not to be multitasking.  Obviously.  I think to myself that they will have plenty of time for that other stuff in jail when the other unthinkable event happens.  For me, just the presence of my kids in back is enough to be considered distracted driving.  Apparently, it’s not enough for many people I see at school drop-offs and pick-ups.  KWIM?

In many states, there is now a deterrent.  New laws prevent the use of handheld phones entirely, just like many states that have enacted primary child passenger safety laws.  Buckle your 2-year old without a carseat or touch that phone while driving and you pay a fine if you are caught.   My state of Illinois enacted such a law this year.  It may seem harsh to some.  In some states where total cellphone bans apply only to young drivers, others may QQ that our teens are now being subject to nanny state restrictions.  Whatever.  To many parents and safety advocates, the real question is, “What exactly is so important that they are putting at risk their own life, the life of their children, their passengers, pedestrians and those in other vehicles?”  Srsly.  They can’t possibly wait 5 or 10 minutes to chat so they can safely drive home from their child’s school or other errand?  Really? What is preventing them from pulling over to the side of the road or into a parking space to send that text message?  Hashtag: Insanity.  Distracted Driving kills.  Ya Know?

We may never know the answer to why that call can’t wait.  Some people will continue to make very bad choices in all sorts of things.  And even if you avoid this risky behavior yourself, keep in mind that you’ve armed your teenager with a cellphone and the ability to drive a car, a weapon combination as lethal as any other!  IKR?  Those who have never raised a teen will lament that parents should just enforce adequate rules and discipline, but it doesn’t always work that easily in reality.  Perhaps they were perfect kids and have never experienced a typical teenager.  For those whose phone calls are too important to delay, or teens who will find a way make that call to their BFF regardless, there is a better way.  Hands-Free.  Many new cars have hands-free bluetooth interfaces, though these are often in pricey options packages.   While some studies have shown that simply talking on a call is dangerous, newer studies are showing that hands-free calling is at least a somewhat safer alternative, especially when you consider having to pickup the phone and dial a number.

What if you have an older car and live in one of the 13 states or other provinces that currently ban hand-held cellphone use?  These include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Guam, Hawaii, Illinois (new), Louisiana (learners), Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma (Learners), Oregon, Puerto Rico, Vermont (work zones), Virgin Islands, Washington and West Virginia.   The safest and least expensive choice is simply not to call or text.  Period.  Another option is to use a hands-free headset, like those that have been around for over a decade.   Unfortunately, many people, especially teens, would rather be seen with an iPhone at their ear than a geeky earphone attached to it.  Plus, you may still need to use the phone to dial and hangup.  After-market bluetooth systems that integrate into your car’s audio system and steering wheel controls are another possibility, but they can cost a small fortune.  Portables often have tiny controls that can be nearly as distracting as a phone.  Some have poor audio quality and others still require you to dial the call manually.

Parrot Minikit NEO Quick Review: Bluetooth *Totally* Hands-Free Car Cellphone Safety Kit

parrotminikitneoEnter the current age of totally hands-free portable devices.  Many clip to your sun visor and use voice controls to initiate and answer a call.  A few models that sell for under $80 at Amazon.com are the Parrot MINIKIT Neo ($79), Jabra Tour ($60) and the BlueAnt Commute ($60).  Some offer apps that integrate with your iPhone or Android phone to give access to features like Siri or Google Voice/Maps.  Some even allow you to hear and reply to text messages with simple voice-prompted responses.  They are re-chargeable and can also serve as a hands free speaker phone with much better volume and clarity than a cellphone by itself.  Newer models allow two phones to be connected simultaneously in dual-mode.

I tried the Parrot MINIKIT Neo.  It worked as advertised, with a few minor glitches.  I was able to pair it to a Galaxy Note 2 with Android 4.2, an iPhone 5 and an older Motorola Razr V3.  In each case, the pairing was fairly easy and once paired, it gave an option to import the phonebook.  This gives it the ability use voice recognition for your contacts, assuming your phonebook names are intuitive and easy to understand.  In cases where you have similar names in your contact list or a name isn’t recognized, you can manually record a name for perfect voice recognition.  Then, once you are on your way, you simply say “MINIKIT,” to enable voice commands.  Then speak your contact’s name and give ‘em a call while your eyes stay on the road.  It’s a simple as that!  When a call comes in, you can opt to answer it with a voice command.  No need to touch or push anything, though the buttons and jogwheel on the MINIKIT Neo are large and easy to find to adjust volume or manually hang up a call.  The speaker quality is clearer and louder than I expected from such a small device.

Glitches?  There are a few.  The MINIKIT NEO clamp won’t fit on the thickest sun visors, like the one in my Toyota Highlander.  The Neo sometimes has difficulty automatically reconnecting to a phone.  So, sometimes you may need to use your phone to manually connect when you get in the car or power cycle the MINIKIT on/off to do so.  When dialing, sometimes there is no confirmation.  So, if you don’t speak clearly or if you have two contacts with similar names, you could immediately find yourself calling the wrong person!  A couple times, a call was somehow initiated when I wasn’t even in the process of making a call!

Once paired and connected, it does what it needs to do.  It lets you make and take calls without touching a device or taking your eye off the road.  And for that, I can tolerate a few glitches that will hopefully be resolved in future software updates.  While my Highlander has a built-in hands-free system, my wife’s Prius does not.  She rarely makes calls while driving, but does receive them sometimes.  More of concern is that it is only a couple years from when our daughter will be driving.  On that day, every car we own will have some type of hands-free system in it.  I consider it as essential for teen drivers (and all drivers) as I would any other critical safety feature like side curtain airbags or stability control!  Did I mention that the Minikit has a neat app that includes a car locator?  Another nice feature if you have a young driver!  So, if it isn’t realistic for you or others in your family to simply avoid making calls while driving, these voice-activated bluetooth portables may be a safer alternative to handling a cellphone.

Thank you to Parrot for supplying the MINIKIT Neo used in this review.  All opinions are my own and no other compensation was provided.