I hate to be an alarmist, but Californians have less than 24 hours to change their driving habits... that is if you like to talk on your cell phone behind the wheel.That's because on July 1, you can get pulled over and ticketed just for talking (or texting) while driving in California. The obvious exception would be for dire emergencies, such as calling 9-11. And no, voting for your favorite American Idol does not constitute as an emergency.
Under the new law, drivers cannot hold cell phones to their head while on the road. Hands-free devices such as headsets and speakerphones are mandatory when using a cell phone while driving. Drivers under the age of 18 cannot use cell phones while driving at all, even if used in conjunction with a hands-free device. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill back in September 2006, so we've all had ample time to think about it.
The base fine for the first offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With the addition of penalty assessments, those fines can be more than triple the base fine amount, according to the California DMV.
So, what's to be done? Well, despite all of the advance notice, most people are going to do... nothing.
According to a survey by wireless headset maker Plantronics, 44% of California drivers don't know when the new law goes into effect and 72% aren't even sure how it works.
For starters, this law only applies to the person driving a motor vehicle. If you are 18 or older, you 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.
Push-to-talk phones like those made by Nortel are also prohibited unless they're attached to a hands-free device. Passengers can still talk on their cell phones. There are exceptions for emergency vehicles and if you are driving your car on private property.
Fortunately, most cell phones these days come with some type of Bluetooth wireless capability. Pretty much every phone provider, electronics store, and big box stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco offer hands-free devices. Prices start around $59 for a low-end model.
If you are still nervous about the law change, Plantronics suggests the following tips:
-- Trial Run: Practice using your phone and headset together before you drive. Familiarize yourself with the headset controls. Adjust the fit and the microphone on your headset, check the headset settings on your cell phone and stow the phone so it's out of your way but still accessible.
-- Be Prepared: Program all your frequently called numbers into your phone. This includes your boss, your kids' babysitter and your favorite neighborhood pizza place. And don't forget about voice dialing; most phones have that option, so use it as much as possible.
-- Set Up for Success: Just as you check your rearview mirror and secure your seatbelt before driving, be sure to put your headset on and ensure it's connected properly to your phone.
-- Driving Comes First: Remember your first priority is driving. You should only place and receive calls when it's absolutely necessary.
Wireless Telephone Laws FAQs
Q: When do the new wireless telephone laws take effect? A: The new laws take effect July 1, 2008.
Q: What does it say? A: The law 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.
Q: Will there be a grace period when motorists will only get a warning? A: No. The law becomes effective July 1, 2008. It's up to the discretion of the officer whether or not to issue a citation.
Q: Are passengers affected by this law? A: No. This law only applies to the person driving a motor vehicle.
Q: Do these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws? A: Yes.
Q: Can I be pulled over by a law enforcement officer for using my handheld wireless telephone? A: Yes. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.