In 2009, texting while driving became illegal in California. Makes perfect sense when you think about it, considering that making or receiving phone calls while driving became illegal just one year earlier but failed to address the significant distraction of texting.
Hardly a day goes by, however, that we don’t read about at least one serious vehicle crash that resulted from a driver’s use of – and distraction by – a cell phone. Just like speeding or pausing for a stop sign rather than making a complete stop, drivers treat traffic laws like a buffet from which you can pick the laws you like and bypass the rest.
Unfortunately, distracted driving has become such a serious problem that most states now have laws prohibiting drivers from talking and texting while operating a motor vehicle. In an interesting turn of events, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill making texting while driving legal as of January 1, 2013. Legal, that is, providing you do it in a very specific way, and that is what’s bound to create confusion among motorists.
Under the new law, you may text while driving providing the entire operation is done hands-free using voice activated devices. In other words, most cell phones that have a voice texting feature, including the iPhone 4S with ‘Siri,’ would not qualify because drivers must push one or more buttons on the phone to activate that function on the phone. In order to comply with the law, the entire texting operation must be voice-activated and hands-free.
While some newer devices may utilize the technology required to comply with the law, most current smart phones do not. This leads to a couple of potential problems. First, many people may not fully understand the new law and will celebrate the new year by returning to texting while driving, whether it be through using their keyboard or holding the phone to voice text. For drivers that do comply with the new law, voice-activated devices may also contribute to distraction because voice recognition isn’t always spot-on and you may have to repeat words or phrases repeatedly to be understood.
Even if done in a way that complies with the law, talking and texting while driving creates a potentially dangerous distraction. The act of sending or receiving a message, or engaging in conversation, takes one’s attention away from driving. Clearly, by signing this bill, Governor Brown has, to some degree, sacrificed public safety in an attempt to win some much needed popularity with voters.