A month ago, a hoax spread about the California hands-free cell phone driving law activating on July 1 of this year, when it actually goes into effect next year, on July 1, 2008. But what exactly is the law? I went looking for it, and I found the full text of SB-1613. And so there you go. :)
The core of it says:
A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.
I originally wrote a big rant here about how unclear the law is about whether we just have to use hands-free mode while listening and talking, or whether we can't do anything except hands-free listening and talking, which would also include dialing and answering. :P But that's not really what's important. What's important is the idiocy of the entire law in the first place.
You see, according to a 2003 study, talking on the phone slows reaction time similarly whether the driving is using a hands-free set or not. The real danger is that the driver's attention is distracted much more so than when they're talking to a passenger in the car. (There are various mental model theories of why this might be so.) I have yet to see any study demonstrate that using a hands-free set is significantly safer. So it really makes no sense to force people to use hands-free sets. Instead of distinguishing between hands-free and hand-held, we should either ban cell phone calls altogether or let us use them however we want.
Looking around on the web for the effects of hands-free laws enacted elsewhere, I see a study in New York saying hand-held cell phone use went down for a while but came back up, a study in D.C. saying hand-held cell phone use went down, and a study in Finland saying hand-held cell phone use went down, but phone-related hazards stayed the same. What none of these studies even discuss, though, is the rate of total cell phone use, adding hand-free and hand-held.
You see, what I'm worried about is that with hands-free sets, people might think it's safer, resulting in the secondary effect of even longer phone calls. And since hands-free and hand-held cell phone use are just as dangerous, laws like the one that just passed in California may well increase accident rates instead of decreasing them. *sigh* This is what happens when the government ignores scientific studies and enacts laws based on what people feel is true. :\