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Is California's hands-free cellphone law working?

As most of you know by now, driving while tapping such messages as "r u alone?" and "don't forget tp" on your cellphone will become illegal in California on Jan. 1.

To put it another way, the Legislature -- in all its glorious wisdom -- took only a decade to decide that it's probably difficult for someone who is typing up messages on a 2-inch screen to be giving their best effort to driving.

The Legislature, perhaps to its credit, outlawed motorists from using hand-held cellphones and driving on July 1. But text messaging was excluded from that bill for reasons of political expediency -- the bill's sponsor thought it would make it difficult to pass. When the two cellphone laws passed (one for adults, the other applying to young drivers) and the public found out text messaging wasn't included, the righteous indignation led to the text message ban.

Will the bill work? It's hard to say. The California Highway Patrol has issued 44,531 tickets for violating the cellphone talking law between July 1 and mid-December. Here's a month-by-month breakdown through November:

July -- 7,854
August -- 7,123
September -- 7,891
October -- 9,097
November -- 8,188

The bulk of those tickets -- 14,451 of them -- were issued in the CHP's southern division, which includes Los Angeles County. To help put these numbers in perspective, the CHP issued 1,166,842 speeding tickets and 203,490 seatbelt violations in 2007.

I'm curious what readers think about the hand-held cellphone ban. Is it working? Are you seeing fewer people hugging phones to their ears than before July 1? The same? More? Want to be interviewed for a story I'm working on?

Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

-- Steve Hymon

Comments () | Archives (12)

Plenty of people are still using their cell phones "the old fashioned way", but what is more scary is the increased danger associated with people fiddling with their hands-free earpieces. From my own personal experience, they are flaky, and they tune in and out, which is way more distracting than using the regular cell phone without them. I'm a reasonably tech-savvy guy, so how do you think those less so are doing with these fickle devices? I'd hate to be nearby them on the road where they are 'fiddling'.

This is a totally misguided law, which is attempting to legislate against stupidity and is of course failing. Where is the law against turning around to yell at your children, or the one against eating fries without a hands-free ketchup dispenser? The only winners out of this law are the bluetooth headset manufacturers.

I honestly believe that the recent ban will be of little help. I personally have not noticed a major change in the driving habits of other drivers. I do not doubt that the law will help regulate the issue, but only to a certain degree. There are laws in CA prohibiting speeding above the posted limit and prohibiting driving under the influence, but that doesn't stop us all...

The hands-free law, which was always just window dressing compared to an outright ban on driving and phoning, worked for about 2 weeks. Now there are more people using a Blue Tooth-type devie, but there are still a huge number of people with cell to ear, driving away. It seems that once they realized the difficulty of enforing the law (sheer numbers, and it's relative harmlessness compared to other crimes, mean most people get away with it), people started to ignore the ban.

I definitely see fewer now than before the ban, but there are still plenty of people on the phone. Right after it was implemented, there was a period when I didn't see anyone holding a phone to their ear. That's long gone. I also see a lot more Bluetooth headsets, so I guess the ban must have been great for them.

its not working, people are still using cell phones, make the $20 fine $1000 and lets see what happens

Two nights ago I saw a woman leaving a drive-thru window with her hand holding her cell phone to her ear, her face half-turned. I wonder really doubt that she had full attention on the road.

I don't think the hand-held cellphone ban is working. I see almost every person who is driving with their phone attached to their ear. It seems that the ban is not as effective or people just dont care about. To make matters worse, I saw a police officer with his cell phone on his ear about one month ago in San Fernando Valley.

I like how some people think hands free means not putting the phone to their ear, so they are holding the phone in front of their face using the speaker phone.

The law allows you to use speakerphone but you have to put the phone on your lap or in a position where you're not actually holding it while talking.

I totally agree with jujubee - the $20 fine is way too low fpr the first offense. Lately I have seen so many people driving with their cellphones in their ear and not paying attention to what is on the road. I would love it if cellphones were disabled while a car is being driven. Drivers should have their full attention on driving, not on talking on the phone....even with hands-free devices. If they want to talk, let them safely pull over to the side of the road, if the phone call is SO IMPORTANT. Even pedestrians and bicyclists and skateboarders are on their cellphones all the time, also not paying attention to what is on the road ahead of them. Gee, what did we ever ever do before there were cellphones?

Point is to get people to pay attention to the road and their surroundings, and to have both hands on the wheel as per CA Vehicle Code. Jusr because someone is using a hands free device does not mean they are doing that ( paying attention to the road and their surroundings or other drivers. When you are talking ont he phone and driving, you stil are not concentrating on driving regardless to if you have both hands on the steering wheel or not. What about folks who drive with a stick shift? they cant have both hands on the whell at all times either... they gonna outlaw manual transmissions too?

Yesterday I saw a person using their cell phone the old fashioned way (not hands-free) and they had CA exempt plates! I don't think the ban is working and I still see many people breaking the law.


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