Starting July 1, drivers will have to use a new hands-free approach to talking on their cell phones.
Two laws, SB 1613 and AB 33, will prohibit cell phone use while operating an automobile, unless the driver is using a hands-free or wireless device. Drivers under 18 years of age will no longer be able to use a cellular device while driving, even with a hands-free device. Both laws were authored by Senator Joe Simitian (D-CA) and were signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in September 2006.
Davis Police Department Traffic Sergeant Ton Phan said that first and foremost this law should get drivers putting both hands back on the steering wheel.
“If we are still going to allow people to talk on the phone, [they’re] still not focusing their full attention to driving,” Phan said. “Even when listening to the radio or talking to people in the car, one other thing that can be distracting to a driver is [to] talk on the phone.”
The first offense for a driver will result in a $20 fine, while additional offenses have fines that could double or even triple, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Phan said this law should play out similar to the seatbelt law, where the fines exponentially rise to the point where offenders “start to feel the pinch in their pocket” and practice safer talking-while-driving habits.
The new law still allows for cell phone use while driving, but only by using a hands-free device. Several cell phone providers in Davis sell the three hands-free options: wired earpieces which plug into the cell phone, speakerphones that may be installed on the dash and wireless or Bluetooth technology devices.
Sales associates at cell phone retail locations in Davis have said they have definitely felt an increase in sales of hands-free devices in the last couple of weeks, the most popular being the wireless Bluetooth device.
Chatty drivers should be warned that they can be pulled over for this infraction alone, unlike other laws where a fine is added after being pulled over for speeding or a broken tail light. When asked to what degree this law will be enforceable, Phan said that it will be up to the officer’s discretion depending on whether or not a police car can get to someone talking on their phone without risking the safety of other drivers.
“A lot of things come into play when pulling [drivers] over, [such as] is it safe to do so, by making U-turns in the middle of the intersection after someone talking on the phone,” Phan said. “It’s up to whatever the officer decides to do.”
While this law prohibits holding a cell phone to the ear while driving, dialing with one’s hands is still permitted, which means text messaging while driving remains legal.
To some students, the law might not have a high impact.
“I’ve never been that big of a cell phone person,” said Matt Takaichi, a senior political science major. “A hands-free [device] is not something I’d think to take places; it’s an easy step, but one extra step to activate [my Bluetooth].”
Senior biological sciences major Lily Allen agreed as she similarly does not drive and talk much, though she owns a handset for her cell phone. She said she felt text messaging while driving “is a lot worse than talking.”
Phan said he hopes the law urges auto users of all ages and abilities to take driving more seriously and to abstain from doing other things that would distract them from focusing and would possibly get them into a collision.
For more information on the new laws, go to dmv.ca.gov/cellularphonelaws. For a list of cell phone providers and retail stores in Davis that sell hands-free devices, visit daviswiki.org/mobile_phones.
NICOLE L. BROWNER can be reached at email@example.com