August 05, 2008

California's New Sport: Balancing the Cell Phone Below the Dashboard

When it comes to driving, safety and rules, I can be an unfair, biased, elitist.

I feel that with 15 years of ticket-free, accident free, driving, I should be allowed to drive, without worry, 15-20 miles over the speed limit, while others more accident-prone should be branded as such and forced to follow speed limits to the mile. I believe that I should be allowed to drive with my laptop in my lap surfing high-speed wireless Web, while reading a book and eating a burger, while others shouldn't be allowed to remove their hands from the 10 and 2 position, thanks to my so-far spotless record. I don't think I should have to comply with California's latest attempt to pander to worrywarts, and it's clear many aren't.

While I understand it was the popular thing to try and "protect" our roads by forcing people in the state of California to go "hands free" and stop driving with their phones clutched to their ear, I've seen the new law has led to a new breed of evaders, whom I see every day holding their phones below the dashboard, presumably with speakerphone on, glancing about for law enforcement.
See Also: LiveDigitally: New California Headset Requirements Law is Political Baby-Kissing at its Finest
Prior to the law, which went into effect on July 1st, it was fairly common to see people on the phone to and from work, with receivers clutched to their ears, necks stretching to the side before lane changes, or talking idly as we all were stuck in stop and go traffic. And while I knew many people, including me, often, were on their cell phones, I wasn't any more worried about their driving than I was worried if I saw somebody eating, somebody bobbing their head to loud music, or if their car already had a significant share of body damage - a good indication they might get into an accident again.

Now, with a law in effect saying all phone use must be hands-free, it's clear not everybody made the switch to bluetooth, or turned off their phones. But instead of holding them to their ears in defiance of a knee-jerk law, I'm constantly seeing people driving with one hand, holding the phone, face up, just below the dashboard, and in theory out of the view of the cops. Surely, this isn't better than clutching the phone to your neck and looking straight ahead?

There are a million different ways to be distracted while on the road. Some choose to do their makeup, or fix their hair. Others choose to eat fast food. Some constantly surf radio stations to find the right beat, or can be seen putting in a new CD. Others still may smoke, one hand dangling outside the window, eventually discarding the butts in the gutter. And yet, with the exception of that last bit, none of these things are crimes.

Prior to the hands-free law going into effect, I would be checking e-mail at stopped intersections, or reloading sports scores on the Blackberry. I've even hopped on Google Maps, while driving, to find a nearby restaurant or market chain. I looked up e-mail contacts and forwarded messages that had to be out "right then". Now, if I want to pull off such electronic subterfuge, I'll have to be holding the Blackberry below the wheel, glancing upward every once and again to be sure my driving hasn't gone off course.

We were safer before.