Will July 1, 2008 be Doomsday for millions of cell phone-chatting California drivers, including those in the Los Angeles area? On July 1, the California Wireless Telephone Automobile Safety Act takes effect. This law generally prohibits the use of a wireless telephone while driving a motor vehicle, unless the phone is being used in a “hands-free” manner. But the new law appears to contain several loopholes big enough for your Hummer.
According to the California DMV’s website, while the use of a hands-free device such as a Bluetooth headset will comply with the law, so will using your speakerphone. Moreover, the DMV states that the law does not prohibit dialing while driving. Incredibly, according to the DMV’s website, the new law also does not prohibit texting while driving. DMV merely states that texting while driving “is strongly discouraged,” and that a police officer can issue a citation to a driver ”if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely.” Only drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless telephones in any manner while driving.
How tough are the penalties under the new law? A twenty dollar fine for the first “infraction,” and a fifty dollar fine for each subsequent infraction (although additional financial “penalties” could be assessed). No points will be added to your license.
Then factor in the number of cars on the roads in the Los Angeles region, and the resulting probability of any individual driver being pulled over even if he or she is violating the law. When these drivers see a cop, won’t they simply hit the speakerphone button and put their phone down temporarily?
It sounds like the Doomsday Clock for those who like to chat on the phone while driving isn’t ticking much closer to midnight in California.