Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hands-Free Cell Phone Law = Think-Free Legislation

I wasn't surprised when I heard LA had adopted a new law prohibiting talking on cell phones while driving without a Bluetooth or hands-free device. It seems to make perfect sense. You can steer better and react quicker with two hands better than with one. This law has been in effect for some time in NYC, but I never gave it a second thought before it actually affected me here in LA where driving is a necessity.

Now that the law applies to my everyday life, I realize how much of a joke it is. I don't feel any safer knowing that people are talking on hands-free devices. The only real difference in my driving experience is that the police have one more reason to pull me over.

Everytime I have to ignore a call while I'm on the road I wonder... Are there statistics that prove driving with a Bluetooth or earpiece is safer than driving with a phone to your ear? If so, then how was that data collected? I've never heard of an insurance company asking whether or not you were on a cell phone at the time of a car accident. Maybe the State funded the research. If so, I wonder how much that cost. Could they have spent that money on financing projects that the public actually benefits from, rather than to justify giving Californians one more reason to be afraid.

What is the difference between driving with a cell phone in your hand and driving with soda in your hand? A sandwich? Lipstick?

"Hands-Free" is not the solution to bad or dangerous drivers. If it were the solution then why isn't it illegal for me to sip on an iced tea while driving? People have been driving with one hand on the wheel for decades! When did driving with one hand become dangerous?

Often times in traffic (coincidentally when many people are on the phone) I drive with one hand on the wheel while I rest my head on the other hand. That isn't illegal. If I really wanted I could talk to the person in the back seat holding an imaginary telephone to my ear. (You know the one... the pinky and the thumb?) I don't think that would make me any more of a threat to the drivers around me.

The danger in driving while talking on a cell phone is that your talking on the phone. Your focus is not on the road. It's the lack of attention to the road and its surroundings that makes talking on the cell phone dangerous. Your attention is divided regardless of whether you have a phone to your ear or a blinking earpiece attached to it. So the real question is, if they really want to make our roads safer why haven't they banned talking on cell phones altogether? Do you think cell phone companies had to do with that decision? I can only wonder.

Oh and how convenient it is for us that we have to pay $50 for a Bluetooth headset if we want to talk on the phone while driving. How convenient it is that the law requires us to purchase an electronic device in order to continue doing something as simple as answering your phone. How convenient it is that the media counted down the days until the law was in effect, reminding us to race to our nearest electronics store to BUY! BUY! BUY! our life-saving, hands-free devices.

I personally haven't bought into that hype. I'll hold off on the Trekkie hardware as long as I can. In the meantime I'll have to do what any good, law-abiding citizen should do and stick to safe alternative modes of communication while I'm behind the wheel - texting.  

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