Friday, June 27, 2008

Look mom, no hands!

As I was driving home earlier today, I saw one of those large digital freeway billboards displaying a “July 1, hands-free calling, it’s the law” reminder.

Oh yes, the new California “hands-free law” is just days away. I, for one, can hardly wait to see what happens. Will people stop talking on their cell phones in the car? Well, no, of course not. Will they all switch to a “hands-free device”? Maybe, but honestly, even if they do, will they really drive better? Isn’t it the actual conversation that distracts people sometimes? And won’t they still have to dial the number to begin with? (Yes, yes, I know, some fancy new cars have voice-activated calling, but not everyone has a new fancy car, not even close.)

And, in fact, dialing still is allowed, even though it’s the trickiest part of the call. The California department of motor vehicles website states that although the new law does not prohibit dialing, “drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.”

Hmm, strongly urged. Okay.

And what about texting? Isn’t is a lot harder to text while driving (even if your phone has a key pad) than to hold the phone up to your ear and talk? Again, let me defer to the California department of motor vehicles website, which on this subject states:

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow drivers 18 and over to text message while driving?
A: The law does not specifically prohibit that, but an officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely. Sending text messages while driving is unsafe at any speed and is strongly discouraged.

Hmm, strongly discouraged. Okay.

So what exactly is the point of this law? It seems to miss the mark on so many levels. Is prohibiting the use of hands while talking really going to cut down on accidents? Does it actually need to be legislated? Do we really need more rules??

Some people, or course, would say, “Hell yes,” but c’mon, if we’re going to outlaw using a hand-held cell phone while driving, we should also think about stopping some other activities commonly carried out while driving.

Let’s take, for instance, eating. Have you ever noticed how many Americans eat in their cars? I often times check out everyone passing by while I’m stopped at a light, especially if I’m the first car at the light (sort-of my personal version of a “reality show” because I no longer have cable). It’s amazing how many people you’ll see eating, especially if it’s around noon. It’s gross, really. And although we can probably all get a French fry to our mouths without crashing a car, eating a meal while driving can probably be considered “distracting.” It requires you to reach in, get what you need, add any condiments if necessary, then take care not to drop anything on yourself while getting it into your mouth, all while still driving your car. When you think about it, isn’t eating a meal while driving harder than talking while driving?

Or what about driving with kids in the car? Have you ever had the occasion to do this? It can be incredibly distracting. I sometimes feel like I’m turned around dealing with situations in the backseat for a good portion of the drive to and from my daughters’ schools. Perhaps we should start thinking about outlawing driving with minors?

And let’s not forget smoking. Here is California, and in more and more other states across the country, we’ve banned smoking in public places. (I have to admit, I love this law, even if it’s completely contrary to the point I’m trying to make in this post.) So where do people smoke these days? Well outside, at home, and in their cars. It’s a non-public space in which smokers can puff away, guilt free. Well that’s fine, but please note that first the cigarette must be lit, then must be held during the duration of the smoke. The smoker must also flick the ashes and periodically check to make sure the cigarette has not burned down to the nub and is about to scorch his finger. If so, the cigarette must be put out.
I’m not sure of the genesis of those built-in, push-in lighters that come standard in cars. Was the addition safety-related, or just an attempt by car makers to make the in-the-car-smoking experience more convenient? The latter, I think. Ironically, these cigarette lighter sockets have now become car adapters, used to power up mobile phones and other devices, which just goes to show you that although times may change, people are always going to do other things while they drive. It's human nature.

But I'm not worried about July 1 because I know exactly how I’m going to handle the new hands-free law:


Jacquie said...

I for one am dreading this law, because the car is where I get all of my phone calls made and returned! I can also check e-mail, including comments left on me and you and ellie, on my phone. Danger!! I actually bought a bluetooth, but I can't find the charger.

When you said: "Is prohibiting the use of hands while talking really going to cut down on accidents?", I cracked up at the idea that using hands to talk (like the italian uses gestures) would be outlawed.

KathyR said...

I always said that if they were gonna ban cell phone use in the car, they ought to ban drive-through restaurants.

Not gonna happen.

But which would you more readily throw down onto the floor of your car to get both hands on the wheel: your cell phone or a cheeseburger with all the trimmings?

Kathi D said...

Let's not forget shaving, putting on makeup, fiddling with the radio, and reading. Now you might think "reading" is a stretch, but I have seen numerous instances of drivers reading on the 405 freeway between Orange County and Los Angeles. Everything from newspapers to novels.

Musings from Myopia, AKA John said...

I'm in favor of people using cell phones when they drive. They're the ones who won't notice as I sneak up on them to run them off the road! Actually, I think I might try some other novel things while driving: skipping rope, cutting someone else's hair, flossing my teeth, flossing someone else's teeth, etc. I can't tell you how often I see people drifting from one lane to the next; when I see that, it's almost a sure sign of cellphone abuse. I snarl and bark at them as I drive by.

Jacquie said...

I find barking drivers very distracting, especially when I'm on the phone.

Ellie said...

Barking and flossing. And you think the bad-driving bastids are in the wrong??

Love it, Beth.

Big Momma Pimpalishisness said...

We've had this law in CT for a while now. My son's bus driver still hasn't gotten the memo though.