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The papers and television stations have recently highlighted the changes in California law concerning the use of cell phones due to take effect on July 1, 2008. Our previous post on the subject highlighted the requirements of the new law and noted the studies that lead to its passage in September of 2006. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has published an excellent FAQ addressing the variety of components that qualify as “hands-free,” when exemptions to the law may apply, how the law is different for motorists under the age of 18, and how the new law will be enforced. We would encourage viewing this site, especially if you are traveling in California from out-of-state, as the law applies to everyone on the roads. The question posed in this post is whether the law went far enough.

In the only study that has reviewed and compared the level of distraction that cell phones create during driving,the human factor experts conducting the test concluded that “people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated. . .” (Strayer, Drews, Crouch 2006 article in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society). More importantly, however, the University of Utah study found that the level of impairment for those drivers who talked on handheld or “hands-free” cell phones was essentially the same. It was not the delivery system of the message that made the difference, it was the focus on the message that impaired the driver.

Under the new California law, drivers over the age of 18 may utilize cell phones in the “hands free” modalityat any time. Because the law exempts this type of system, it creates a false sense that “hands free” use of cell phones is safe. The human factors studies are completely counter to this conclusion. Unbelievably, “texting” is not addressed by the new law.On this, it should be noted that within the last year a42 year-old mother of fourwas killed on State Route 299 near Shingletown while stopped at a construction site, when another woman crashed into the back of her car while texting. The car burst into flames and theycould not get the poor woman out.

Though the users of cell phones have become addicted to their use in vehicles, the dangerousness cannot be overstated. All drivers should limit their use as much as possible, and should refrain from utilizing the phone when full attentiveness to traffic, roadway, pedestrians, or other conditions is required. No phone conversation is wortha life taken.

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