IN 2017, “HANDS-FREE” TALKING WHILE DRIVING WILL MEAN HANDS FREE

Until now, you figured you were safe (from accidents and tickets) if you held your cell phone away from your ear and used the speakerphone while you were driving. Maybe you did a quick head dip to check a text message, but your eyes were back on the road in just a split second. Well, there are many who disagree with that type of cell phone usage while driving, and now they have California law behind them.

Since 2006, California has prohibited driving a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless the device is configured to allow for hands-free listening and talking. In 2008, this ban expanded to prohibit a person from writing, sending or reading text-based communications while driving. In 2013, the Legislature again expanded this ban to prohibit anyone younger than 18 years of age from operating a wireless communications device while driving, regardless of the device’s hands-free capability

This latest legislation, AB 1785, specifically “prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communication device. The bill would authorize a driver to operate a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communications device in a manner requiring the use of the driver’s hand only under specified conditions.” Those conditions are if the phone is mounted like a GPS and is turned on with a swipe or tap of your finger.

The new law includes ““electronic wireless communications devices, including, but not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, a specialized mobile radio device, a handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, a pager, or a two-way messaging device.”

If you get caught, expect a $20 fine for your first offense. That may not seem like much until you add court costs, which brings the tab up to around $60. For second and subsequent offences, it will be a $50 fine, which will add up to around $150. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to hands-free features installed by the vehicle manufacturer. The law takes effect January 1, 2017.

It’s never a good idea to use your cell phone while driving, even in a completely hands-free mode. It’s a distraction, no matter how brief the conversation or glance at the screen. Of course, texting and speaking on the phone while driving will (and shouldn’t) be banned. But as of next year, “hands-free” will truly mean hands free.