On July 1, after a nearly two-year grace period, a new era begins in California: holding a cell phone to your ear and talking while driving will be illegal unless it is an emergency.
In most cases, you will still be able to talk-and-drive, but you will need a hands-free device to do so such as a blue tooth headset, speakerphone set up, or a wired headset.
What Exactly is the New Law?
(1) If you are 18 or older, you are prohibited from holding a phone and talking while driving.
(2) If you are 16 or 17, the only time you can use a cell phone while driving is in an emergency only.
(3) The first offense of the cell phone law will result in a $20 ticket. Subsequent citations will result in $50 tickets. However, with court costs and penalties, the true costs of these tickets will be approximately $76 and $190, respectively.
Here is something else to think about: The new laws go into effect just days before the California Highway Patrol goes on “maximum patrol” throughout the Fourth of July weekend. This means that 80% of CHP officers will have their eyes on the road, and on you and your cell phone.
If it is illegal to hold a phone while talking, how is it possible to dial it or press a button to answer the phone or take a call, even if you talk hands-free?
This is where things may get a bit dicey because the laws are silent on these issues.
The Law basically only bans talking on the cell phone without a hands free device for non emergency calls, therefore, you are allowed to touch the phone to make a call or take one, said Mike Marando, a spokesman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles. “As long as you don’t hold the phone to carry the conversation,” he added.
Will text messaging while driving in California be illegal?
Text messaging will be illegal only for 16 and 17 year-old drivers. The law silent as to adults. I strongly recommend that no one text message while driving!
Tom Marshall, a CHP spokesman, has stated that “If you are text messaging and we see it’s affecting your driving, we can still pull you over” for distracted driving.
The offense is not distracted driving or, for example, driving with a bag of French fries in your lap. What Police actually cite you for what happens as a result of being inattentive, such as impeding traffic or an improper lane change.
Will getting a ticket for talking on a cell phone result in a higher insurance rate for motorists?
No. But there is a chance that it could eventually.
Cell phone violations will not result in any points being tacked onto your driving record — insurance carriers use those points to determine if you’re a good or bad driver. But the tickets are still on your driving record.
Darrel Ng, a spokesman for the California Department of Insurance, said that in the future, carriers might apply to the state to use tickets when setting rates, although they’d likely have to prove a correlation between getting those tickets and accident rates.
What other states have similar laws, and how are those working out?
New York was the first state to institute a hand-held ban, beginning in 2001, and Connecticut and New Jersey have followed suit.
From 2001 through 2006, police in New York issued 976,725 citations to motorists for holding their phones while driving.
Even more interesting, the number of citations has increased each year, with 285,684 tickets being given in 2006, the latest year for which numbers are available.
With more than 11.3 million licensed drivers in New York, it’s probably safe to assume that an awful lot of people are not getting caught.
What are some ways to comply with the laws without spending a lot of money?
First and foremost, learn how to use the voice recognition system that comes with most cell phones. Voice recognition usually requires users to touch only one button and then say a person’s name to make a call.
Surely the much talked-about Apple iPhone, which starts at $399, comes with voice recognition?
No, it doesn’t. It is a feature you can get with a BlackBerry phone or many standard phones.
What are some other ways to go hands-free?
There is no shortage of devices out there. Here are three easy ways to be a go hands free:
(1) Buy a cheap cell phone cradle that mounts to a vehicle’s dashboard. A conversation can then be carried on using the phone’s speakerphone function. Cost: $15 and under at automotive stores.
Tip: If your vehicle’s stereo system has an auxiliary jack, you can play your phone through the vehicle’s speakers, which makes it easier to hear.
(2) Use a headset. Most phones come with an earpiece or you can easily upgrade to a wireless bluetooth headset that syncs to your phone.
Wireless bluetooth headsets typically cost between $30 and $120, and many are available.
(3) Use a wireless speaker. These mouse-sized devices can be clipped to a sun visor and are a lesser-known alternative to the wireless earpiece. Motorola and Parrot are two prominent manufacturers.
Will the new laws prevent car or other motor vehicle accidents and/or make drivers safer?
Based upon research that I have done, the experts seem to agree that most of the problem is not the act of holding the cell phone while driving, but the distraction of talking while driving. If they are right simply holding a conversation with someone in your car is as dangerous as talking on a cell phone.
As a driver who also happens to be a car accident lawyer, I beg to differ. While driving I see many people holding their phones to their heads which hinders their ability to turn their head while driving. When I am driving my car, I dread seeing other drivers talking on cell phones because I know they are not paying attention.
I am hoping the new law will prevent car accidents but only time will tell.