California Misdials on Cell Phone Bill

California state lawmakers are putting our conversations on hold—well, sort of. If you’re one of the unlucky ones stuck in Irvine for summer school or in California, then you’ve probably heard of the new cell phone policy officially enacted on July 1. According to the new law, drivers must use a hands-free device while on the road (now you have an excuse to use those highly-fashionable star-trek ear pieces). However, if you happen to be under the age of 18, the law states you cannot be on the phone at all.
Keeping in mind the 4,000 traffic-related deaths in California every year, this ban seems like a no-brainer. However, according to research by universities such as Carnegie Mellon and the University of Utah, holding a phone to your ear or using a hands-free device causes the same amount of distraction. They argue quite convincingly that it is the actual conversation that divides one’s attention while at the wheel, which suggests this ban will do little to ensure that your hands are at the 10 and two position, or that you see a car merging into your blind spot. This new driving law requires the use of a handless cell phone device, but what about actual human conversation? Wouldn’t drivers be more prone to distraction by the person sitting in their passenger seat? Since texting while driving is still legal, the law seems to suggest you should text your passenger to shut up when traveling at 80 miles per hour.
If safety is the main concern that caused politicians in Sacramento and our own governator to promise the salvation of 300 lives within the first year of the law’s enactment, then why has text-messaging been completely unaccounted for by our legislators? The popularity of the BlackBerry and the iPhone (Apple just released its “new” and improved iPhone on July 11) is as high as ever. Research in Motion, the makers of the BlackBerry cell phone, which features a “qwerty” keypad and allows users to log on to the Internet, had an unexpectedly high fourth fiscal quarter and expects a jump in subscribers this year. With Apple poster boy Steve Jobs and the company’s decision to slash the iPhone’s price in half, expect to see the current six million Apple users skyrocket as well.
The law basically says there is no problem leaving a Facebook message while on the road, or e-mailing your teacher that your car broke down on the way to class when you’re really lying in the sand of Laguna Beach. Even more absurd is that the Los Angeles Police Department began a radio campaign on July 1 to ask California drivers to text in accident reports or any other helpful information. Instead of this ambiguously written law, drivers shouldn’t be allowed to use the phone at all.
If you don’t have a Bluetooth device and you get caught, be prepared to take out your pocketbook. A first offense costs $20, but with court fees and other additional costs, the ticket can cost up to $76. A second offense can cost you up to $200. That’s definitely more than a parking ticket and pricier than getting towed at the University Town Center.
What the law lacks, though, is an emphasis on why the change in policy was proposed in the first place. If anything, the law should focus on offenders who actually cause accidents.
This law also seems impossible to police. Especially when it allows users to answer incoming calls (with a Bluetooth device you still need to touch your cellular phone to answer it) or use the phone without an earpiece if there is an emergency. However, there is no definition for what constitutes an emergency. A worried son trying to get to his 70-year-old mother who broke her hip might be one, but a soccer mom trying to pick up her son can be another.
To only single out mobile users for being distracted in the car is ridiculous. The 405 freeway is one of the busiest stretches of road in California. Here you can find people using their cars as if they were bathrooms: brushing their frizzy, out-of-the-shower hair and putting on that dark coat of black eye-liner—which requires full attention on a mirror. Still, the most demented aspect of it all is there is no penalty for it.
Lawmakers need to get their heads out of their own useless devices and make a comprehensive law that covers all the bases.

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