California to Enforce Hands-Free Calls While Driving

Brandon Wong | Staff Photographer

Brandon Wong | Staff Photographer
California will be the fifth state to pass legislation banning unassisted cellular phone use, starting July 1.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into legislation a new law that bans the use of cellular phones while driving. The measure goes into effect on July 1, 2008.
Although the new legislation prohibits drivers from using handheld wireless phones while operating a motor vehicle, it clearly states that drivers 18 and over may use a “hands-free device,” whether it is a headset or the phone’s speaker-phone function. The legislation also states that drivers will be allowed to use a wireless telephone in emergency cases.
However, no drivers under the age of 18 can use a wireless telephone or a hands-free device under any circumstance.
Sergeant Manse Sinkey, of the UC Irvine Police Department, expressed his strong support for the upcoming law and explained its effects on the UCI community.
“The cell-phone ban is definitely needed because most drivers, if they do not have 100 percent of their attention on driving, have a greater potential for speeding, running a stop light, hitting a pedestrian or worse,” Sinkey said. “It will certainly be a benefit at UCI due to the heavy congestion of pedestrians and bicyclists.”
According to the California DMV, the base fine for the first offense is $20 and $50 for any subsequent convictions. Though the violation is a reportable offense, the DMV will not assign a violation point to one’s driver’s license, but rather have the conviction appear on their driving record.
Sara Faheem, a third-year public health sciences major, voiced her general approval of the new legislation despite some doubts regarding its effectiveness.
“I think that the new policies are a great idea and I’ll probably make an effort to change my ways, but I don’t think the population will care enough since the consequences aren’t that grave,” Faheem said.
Contrary to Faheem’s statement, Sinkey argued that the cell phone ban will be quite effective due to the fact that a majority of people abide by the law.
“There are always going to be those people who don’t do what they should, but that is why we are going to strongly enforce it,” said Sinkey. “The major intent here is to make safer roadways for both the campus and the community.”
Students and frequent commuters, such as third-year biological sciences major Vy Han, expressed their concern about driving while using a cellular phone. “Even though I really hate this new policy, I think it’s really for the best,” Han said. “Two hands on the wheel are definitely better than one.”
Han went on to give a few words of advice to fellow commuters and any stick-shift drivers in coping with the new law.
“People driving stick-shifts shouldn’t even be complaining about this law because they need all four limbs to drive,” Han said. “Before driving automatic, I used to drive stick-shift and would use a headset whenever I drove. There is no way I could have driven stick while holding a phone.”
As California joins Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington in banning cell-phone use while driving, there are still issues to be worked out. As of now, there are only two states that have laws that prohibit text messaging while driving.
Han and alumni student Chris Clay, who graduated as an international studies major, stated their displeasure and disapproval of people who text and drive, claiming that it is far more dangerous than talking on the phone while driving.
“The law itself doesn’t make any sense off top,” Clay said. “If the ban only prevents cell-phone usage and not texting, it is a flawed ban. People can type on their laptops or read a text message and there is no law against it.”
“There is no way you could text and drive at the same time. It’s too dangerous and there should be a law against it,” Han said. “I tried to text once and I almost ran into another car.”
While students like Clay and Han voiced their concerns against text messaging, Claire Orosco, a third-year biological sciences major, admitted to her occasional texting habits.
“Even though I do not talk on the phone too often while I drive, I will normally respond to a text if I receive one,” Orosco said. “However, whenever I do text or talk on the phone, I try to make it as quick as possible.”
Despite the restrictions, students encourage the legislation for safer driving.
“With texting, the driver only has one free hand, so the divided attention here is worse than talking on a telephone,” Sinkey said. “It would be nice if they added texting to the law, but it’s not. If they start with cell-phone bans, it is likely though that texting will follow soon.”
Sharing a similar opinion about the future, Aiwen Lin, a third-year international studies major, predicted that if the number of accidents decreases, then it is more likely that other states will follow in adopting a cell-phone ban policy.
To learn more about the new cell phone policies, visit the California DMV Web site at