As of July 1, California joined Washington, Utah, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia in banning something while driving. Unfortunately, it's not a ban against condescendingly asking your spouse, "Why are you in this lane?" No, people in these places are prohibited from talking on hand-held phones while driving. I'm sure other states will follow soon, just as I'm sure cell phone makers and users will find ways around this law.
There's already a ridiculous loophole built into the California law. For some bizarre reason, people are prohibited from talking on their cells while driving, but they're not prohibited from dialing while driving. I don't know about you, but I have to take my eyes off the road to dial, not necessarily to speak. I'd like to see an amendment to this, and hope that someday soon people will be pulled over for DWD's - Driving While Dialing.
Here's another one for you. There's nothing in the California law that specifically prohibits people from sending text messages while driving. Punching all those keys to text someone while cruising on the highway isn't dangerous at all, is it?
I don't know if precise statistics are kept for what percentage of drivers sometimes use their handheld cell phones while at the wheel. However, I can say that my personal survey indicates that in the past, approximately 99% of those people making left turns in front of me who didn't pull far enough ahead held the wheel in one hand and their phone in the other.
As with any law, there are bound to be people who will oppose this new one. Some will claim that it's an infringement on their personal freedom. Obviously, the Founding Fathers intended that every American have the right to use a handheld cell phone while driving.
My major worry about the new law is that it will encourage more and more people to buy those bluetooth phones that clip onto the ear or some other body part. You know who I'm talking about. People who have these things walk around and look right at you while they're talking to somebody else. At least three times a day, I think they're talking to me instead of their lover, stockbroker, or therapist. With the new rule, I'm even more likely to be in an elevator with someone I've never seen before, and have that person look right at me and say, "Life's too short to do business with a person like you."
Some people are used to holding their cell phones up to their ears, and they're going to be upset because they feel that what they have to say on their cells is always important. It can't possibly wait until they finish driving. Who are they kidding? Most of the things I overhear people say on their cells -- and you can't help but overhear this stuff - are things like, "What's for dinner?" or "Nothing new with me," or "Did I get any calls?" And then there's the classic that those people on a plane say immediately after it lands. They just can't wait until they get off the plane before making their important call that states, "I'll call you from baggage."
I have a little speaker/microphone thing that clips onto the visor in my car. Will this make me a safer driver than holding up my cell phone to my ear and talking directly into it? I hope so, but I'm not sure. Some studies have indicated that talking on hands-free phones is really no safer than talking on phones held up to the ear. We're still distracted by the act of talking on the phone.
Similarly, accidents are caused by people who eat while they drive, put makeup on while they drive, or -- my personal favorite to see on the highway - people who read the newspaper while driving. I've even seen people working on the crossword puzzle while they drive. (What's a five-letter word for someone who does this? Oh, that's right. "Idiot"). So, I'm not bothered by those behind these laws who favor hands-free phoning. I'm much more worried about those who like to practice hands-free driving.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from Sesame Street to Family Ties to Home Improvement to Frasier. He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.