California Legalizes Some Texting While Driving, Sort Of

from the will-it-reduce-accidents? dept

A few years ago, California outlawed texting while driving. On the whole, this is one of those things that certainly seems like a good idea. I’m still amazed that anyone — law or no law — thinks that texting while driving is a reasonable thing to do. It’s a clear death wish. That said, like many laws, there appear to be unintended consequences. A few studies have suggested that states that put in place anti-texting while driving laws actually saw an increase in accidents compared to nearby states that had no such ban. How does that make sense? Well, it’s because the law doesn’t seem to actually get everyone to stop texting while driving. Instead, what it does is make them hide what they’re doing, which generally means putting it down in their lap. Before that, they could hold it up and still see the road, even if they weren’t paying close enough attention to it.

None of this is defending the ridiculously dangerous practice of texting while driving, but merely acknowledging that the law intended to make the roads safer could actually do the opposite.

With all that said, it’s interesting to see that California quietly legalized some forms of texting while driving last week with very little fanfare. Basically, it allows totally hands-free texting — such as dictating messages via a bluetooth headset or a car service like OnStar. Of course, unsurprisingly when dealing with lawmakers and lawmaking, there’s a lot of confusion over the new rules — with some wondering if it meant that something like Siri was now legal while driving. That resulted in the following amusing passage in the SJ Merc article about this, in which the staff of the sponsor of the bill is left to admit that no one there has an iPhone, so they didn’t even really think about Siri:

On Friday, after much head-scratching and acknowledging nobody in Miller’s office owns a Siri-equipped iPhone 4S, the assemblyman’s aides concluded it will still be illegal to use your actual phone to text behind the wheel — even by speaking the message directly into Siri.

The California Highway Patrol confirms that just the act of turning on the phone or selecting the phone’s hands-free text app, like pushing the Siri button or Google apps on Android phones, is enough to warrant flashing lights in your rearview mirror and a $100-plus ticket. The same thing goes for using your phone to read texts.

“The phone can’t be in your hands,” said CHP spokeswoman Jaime Coffee. “Hands-free is the key.”

Either way, this seems to suggest, once again, the difficulty in regulating any particular technology in a rapidly changing technology market. I still don’t understand why we don’t just do the simple thing: make dangerous and distracted driving illegal, and just teach people the human consequences of doing something moronic like texting while driving.

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Comments on “California Legalizes Some Texting While Driving, Sort Of”

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44 Comments
Machin Shin (profile) says:

“I still don’t understand why we don’t just do the simple thing: make dangerous and distracted driving illegal, and just teach people the human consequences of doing something moronic like texting while driving.”

The stupid thing is they already made this law. I am pretty sure “reckless driving” is illegal everywhere. That pretty much covers anything you can think of. It even includes morons that can’t drive even if fully focused on the road.

So the real question is, why don’t we just enforce the rules that we have and quit adding stupid nit picky ones on top of them?

For some people talking on the phone while driving is a major distraction. For others it is not a big deal and no worse than talking to a passenger.

That brings up another point that really bothers me. Here it is these people are trying to say I can’t use a phone while I drive because it is distracting. Well, I would say a screaming 2 year old throwing cheerios around the car is also distracting, where is the law banning them?

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So the real question is, why don’t we just enforce the rules that we have and quit adding stupid nit picky ones on top of them?

Because our representatives are paid by the law. They have to justify their existence, and the more laws they introduce, the more they can use that to “prove” to their constituents they are doing something about the problem, unlike the other guy.

tracker1 (profile) says:

Re: Satellite Navigation is Dangerous

I’ve been known to have a map up on my phone and look at that while driving… I’ve also, in the past, written down/printed similar items. Today’s cars have built-in bluetooth, as well as sat-nav. Will they be illegal too soon… I was in my first accident in 17 years last year while I had an incoming call, and looked over to see who it was from… Traffic suddenly stopped in front of me, *wham*

It happens, it could just as easily have been a kid asking a question in the rear seat, or any number of other distractions. It’s a matter of being prudent/responsible while driving, not outlawing anything that might be too much of a distraction…

Separate compartments for every passenger, people. Then your hands strapped to the steering wheel, with your head in a bit of a vice… only safe way to go.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Satellite Navigation is Dangerous

“Separate compartments for every passenger, people. Then your hands strapped to the steering wheel, with your head in a bit of a vice… only safe way to go.”

Then they will have to require tacks in the seat or something to make sure you can’t fall sleep while driving.

I have more than once done something “distracting” because it was safer to be slightly distracted and awake than to try and be totally focused and pass out going 70.

Anonymous Coward says:

While I agree with Mike’s suggestion that we should just make dangerous and distracted driving illegal, instead of specifying each possible use of each possible device as either legal or illegal, I think I know why lawmakers are taking this approach.

In the 1990s, Montana changed its rural daytime car highway speed limit to “reasonable and prudent”. This, incidentally, reduced highway deaths significantly. But in 1999, someone got a ticket for 100+mph, fought the ticket, and won, on the grounds that “reasonable and prudent” was so vague that it violated the state constitution’s due process clause. A few months later, the state legislature enacted a conventional numerical speed limit, and highway deaths went back up.

It would be pretty easy to see a court throwing out a distracted driving statute the same way, even though it would be both more sensible and safer.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s interesting. I don’t usually speed on highways but recently I caught myself on a few interesting situations.

Once I was driving way up the speed limit on a road that had no surveillance at all like the limit was like 70 mph and I was at 90 mph. However, it was broad daylight, the road had very few vehicles (none in the left lane which is the one to drive at the limit speed), the road was in incredibly good conditions (no holes or cracks) and most important I felt the car in my hands. When I noticed I was speeding I slowed down. When I came back through the same road it was already getting dark so I was actually driving slower than the speed limit, I don’t like to drive during the night.

On another example I was driving to the seaside and the road isn’t that good and there are very sharp curves. On top of that it was rainy at the time. So the speed limit was something something near 50 mph and I was driving at 30 mph.

You see, those were speeds I found to be reasonable and prudent at those conditions. The issue is, not everybody does what’s reasonable and prudent and put themselves and others in danger. That someone that fought the ticket was speeding on purpose and knew he/she was way beyond the safety limits. It is unfortunate that you need to make explicit laws that penalize the majority because of a few who are immature and irresponsible. Here in Brazil it’s actually the opposite lmao, you have to write laws for the majority that’s immature and irresponsible and the few reasonable and prudent just have to go along.

Wally's German Friend says:

Re: Re:

Ever wonder how the Autobon has almost no deaths? No speed limit makes people more inherent of their surroundings because they don’t have to worry about glancing down at the speedometer to stay below a certain amount of speed. Because they don’t worry about staying below or on the speed limit, they only have to worry about the tragic pattern and their surroundings.

bkool says:

Re: Re: Re:Wally's German Friend

It is because in Germany, it costs like 3,000 us dollars to get a license that’s good for life and the schools actually teach you how to drive, get a sense of situational awareness, and able to handle a car at high and low speeds; the US systems teach people how to park and for 36 dollars I renewed my US license for 4 years. The German autobahn policy (I call it the big boy/girl rules) it has a “recommended” speed of 130kmh or about 81 mph, if you are in an accident and they find that you were in excess of that, your insurance company most likely won’t pay for it. so you’re literally taking your life and the others in your car in both hands. I hold a racing license and lived in Germany for 10 years and loved driving the 100+ all the time but I can’t do that here in the US because there are too many people gettting in an accident at 25 mph because someone rearended the other because they both were txeting at the light.

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

“I still don’t understand why we don’t just do the simple thing: make dangerous and distracted driving illegal, and just teach people the human consequences of doing something moronic like texting while driving.”

It’s very easy to get a conviction in court by having a police office stand up in court and say “I saw this individual operating a motor vehicle while using a cellphone”
It’s much harder to get a conviction if all the police officer can say is “in my opinion, this individual was not paying proper attention to operating the vehicle”

Anonymous Coward says:

I wish there was a way for me to know if someone I was talking to via text was driving.

I’ve had conversations with loved ones only to discover later that they were driving and texting me for a god damn hour on the highway.

If I knew they were driving I would have said “text me when you aren’t driving.”

And it doesn’t even help when I tell them “don’t text me while you are driving.” because they just ignore it and do it anyways.

Anonymous Howard, Cowering says:

Re: AC #8

There are a number of smart-phone apps available that will tell you if someone else is in motion. (I use Latitude, because I just can’t give Google enough information about my habits.)

If you don’t have a smart-phone, perhaps your initial text should include the phrases, “Are you driving now?” and, “Text me when you are safely parked.”

Lord Binky says:

What was that noise? It sounded like an point flapping over me...

If hitting a button on your phone is bad, I suppose we should disable all cruise control as well. You have to hit a button to initiate that as well. In fact, steering wheels should require you strap your hands to them, such that you can never take your hands off while driving, for your protection of course. Well, that’s really not reasonable, I suppose it should just simply be 2 deadman switches on the steering wheel that kill the trigger the breaks when you release either of them. That is the real issue isn’t it? People’s hands being ON the wheel. Regardless of where the person is looking, as long as their hands are on the wheel, everyone is safe.

PlagueSD says:

Re: What was that noise? It sounded like an point flapping over me...

So everytime I shift gears, scratch my nose, or drive with 1 hand on the wheel, my car applies the brakes?? I can see everyone using electical tape to keep the buttons pressed ALL the time if we do that. I can just imagine all the rear end collisions that will cause also.

Lord Binky says:

Re: Re: Re: What was that noise? It sounded like an point flapping over me...

*cough* In case some people really missed the point (*points to subject*, haha get it? went over their head?*wink wink nudge nudge*)I was being facetious with my original comment.

The decision that your hands being off the wheel as the root cause of the danger from texting while driving is absurd and is just…really sad. It IS what they are saying when it is the act of touching the phone that makes it illegal/legal to text and drive. By being that specific in the law, it implies that if your hands are on the wheel, you eye could be closed for all they care, because it has no effect on how well you drive. There are good reasons why some laws are vague and outline the intent of that law and the appropriate use of it, which is sadly ignored in modern times in place of always going with the ‘letter of the law’ mentality thinking, which in itself is not bad, it just has own it’s place and uses as well.

Lord Binky says:

You can outsmart a stupid person. But you never win trying to outstupid them.

Really though as it was pointed out above is that “dangerous and distracted driving illegal” falls under wreckless driving. If you fight the wreckless driving charge you still have court fees and other crap if you win much less what your insurance company charges you if you don’t, so a vigilent police force could curb this habit quite easily. The best way really is to get people to understand how stupid it is to be ok with distracted driving. It’s almost comical in a dark way. Why would they ever bother taking care of themselves, eating right/going to a doctor/trying at work, when they would take an action that has a reasonable chance to be disasterous, and throw all kinds of previous efforts in life away because they are feeling impatient or bored or whatever.

AC Cobra says:

A hypothetical

In my state it’s illegal to talk on a cel phone while driving. I don’t own a headset. Let’s say I saw a drunk driver. Sign on road says “to report drunk drivers call xxx-xxx-xxxx. What am I supposed to do?

On a related note, some of our well meaning nanny state legislators are in favor of requiring all cel phones and mobile devices to be automatically disabled when you get in a car. Stupidest idea I’ve heard in a while but that’s a real proposal.

Anonymous Coward says:

If “the phone can’t be in your hands” according to CHP spokeswoman Jaime Coffee, then what if I’m not using it as a phone or text device but as a GPS for navigation. Is that any more illegal than holding a handheld Garmin or TomTom car navigation system?

And if “just the act of turning on the phone or […] pushing the Siri button is enough […for] a $100-plus ticket”, then what if I use the button on my Jawbone to enable Siri or voice dialing? Is that any more illegal than pushing the button on my steering wheel to enable voice commands that are built into my Honda?

This is all a big mess with lawmakers that don’t understand the technology they’re legislating. That’s a sweet job.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> If “the phone can’t be in your hands” according to
> CHP spokeswoman Jaime Coffee, then what if
> I’m not using it as a phone or text device but as
> a GPS for navigation. Is that any more illegal than
> holding a handheld Garmin or TomTom car
> navigation system?

California, yes, it is.

I know people who have gotten tickets in CA for illegal use of a cell phone while driving when all they were doing was using the navigation app on the phone. They weren’t even holding them. One person had it wedged in the space between the dashboard and the steering wheel. The other had it attached to a special clip he bought to hold the phone.

Both were told that even though using a GPS app on a phone is no more distracting than looking at the same thing on a dedicated GPS device, the way the law is written, it’s still illegal because the app is on a phone and using a phone while driving is prohibited even if you aren’t actually using the telephone part of the device.

JMT says:

“The California Highway Patrol confirms that just the act of turning on the phone or selecting the phone’s hands-free text app, like pushing the Siri button or Google apps on Android phones, is enough to warrant flashing lights in your rearview mirror and a $100-plus ticket.”

So how does that square with the operation of all these menu-based interfaces like BMW’s iDrive? How can these be legal if pushing one button to activate Siri isn’t?

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