Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hands Free in California

There's an amusing billboard I saw today that reads, "Take your hands free ticket to jawbone.com." It's a clever marketing ad capitalizing on the ridiculous new law in California banning people from using a handset while driving. Legislators in California didn't quite grasp the sheer idiocy of the law.

If using a cell phone while driving makes that driver more dangerous, it's because of the distraction of the conversation itself. When on the phone, people tend to look at one spot, sacrificing awareness of their surroundings to pay closer attention to the conversation. They stop checking their mirrors and speed as frequently, and they more easily ignore peripheral vision. Many, if not most people drive with just one hand on the steering wheel; why doesn't the new law ban that?

The law ignores what is arguably the most dangerous aspect about using a handset, looking down at the phone answer or make a call, or to navigate through menus, perhaps to look for contacts or punch in a phone number. Shoving a stupid earpiece into your skull isn't going to change that behavior.

The law may produce the unintended consequence of increasing the amount of text messaging while driving. Text messaging requires looking down at the phone and focusing on what buttons to press, and the focus of the eye changes from how it is focused on the road. This is the same dangerous behavior as navigating through contacts to make a call, the same behavior that the law doesn't cover.

Maybe there are some powerful Bluetooth lobbyists behind the scenes, but whether or not that's the case, tyrannical politicians will say that this law is great, because it will save lives. The law is intrinsically wrong though. It's a moral issue. Even if more lives are saved, the state is penalizing those who can safely make a phone call while driving. The person who crashes is at fault anyway, but if they can handle talking on a cell phone without crashing, let them! The state is violating their right to freedom, a right supposedly protected by the Constitution of the United States of America.

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