July 1 ushers in new law: Hang up or hands-free

Sensible people already avoid the one-handed-driving-while-talking-on-the-phone-trick. But starting July 1, even the senseless will have to give up the handset while driving.

The California Department of Motor Vehicle's Web site currently has a notice that says, succinctly, "Two new laws dealing with the use of wireless telephones while driving go into effect July 1, 2008 ...

"The first prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. Motorists 18 and over may use a 'hands-free device.' Drivers under the age of 18 may NOT use a wireless telephone or hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle."

In other words, if you are a minor, hang up and drive. And if you are not a minor, either get a "hands-free" device or make that call from home.

These laws make basic good sense. Young drivers are not ready for any distractions, and even experienced drivers often become a threat to others when they become preoccupied with the phone.

Our bet is that it won't be long until these laws become obsolete. As tools such as Blackberrys and iPhones become ubiquitous, they also gain features at an astonishing rate.

The days of numeric dialing and bulky handsets are passing.

Who knows what the near future holds in terms of voice-activated and miniaturized communication devices.

But for the present, most of us have had the unfortunate experience of the chatting driver drifting into our lane or missing a red light. We've gotten out of the way of the woman who is driving, talking on the handset and applying makeup on the freeway. We've steered clear of the man who is speeding along with the phone to his ear while he eats a sandwich or ties his tie.

No law can force drivers to abandon all this activity and focus on responsible driving, but the July 1 laws do a reasonable job of addressing one of the most prominent driving distractions.

So, if you just can't live without the phone while driving, get out and get that "hands-free" equipment. You've got about two weeks.

   
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