Talking on a cell-phone while driving in California has been illegal since 2006, while texting and driving has been banned since January 2009. Recent changes to the law, however, will allow drivers to text as long as they do so using hands-free devices, explained a California car accident attorney.
Changes to California Texting and Driving Law
There are currently a number of restrictions in place preventing California drivers from using their cellular telephone or other mobile devices when operating a vehicle. For instance, Vehicle Code section 23123 forbids using any wireless phone while driving unless the phone is equipped to allow hands-free talking and listening and unless the driver uses only the hands-free features. Vehicle Code section 23123.5 forbids writing, sending or reading text messages while driving.
These laws have made a noticeable difference in improving driver safety in California. For example, according to the MercuryNews.com, studies have shown that the number of traffic deaths dropped 22 percent after the cell phone ban, and that the number of deaths blamed on drivers using cell phones was down 47 percent.
Recently, however, a new law has passed that will make some changes to California’s cell-phone prohibitions. MercuryNews.com reports that Governor Jerry Brown signed a law into place that will allow drivers to text while driving as long as they use a voice activated device. The voice activated device must either be part of the vehicle’s operating system or must be attached to a headset or a Bluetooth interface. The driver is still prohibited from actually picking up or operating the phone with his or her hands, which means that sending texts using Apple’s Siri will still be prohibited because using Siri requires the use of the hands.
The Dangers of Texting While Driving
California Assemblyman Jeff Miller proposed the change to existing bans on texting because people want to take advantage of new technologies that they are currently forbidden from using. However, it is important to be aware that texting still can present a danger and that just because it is now legal to text does not mean that it is a good idea. In fact, texting of any type-even using a hands free device-can present a distraction while driving since it takes the focus off the road.
Distracted driving is a major cause of traffic-related injuries and deaths in the United States. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,092 people died in 2010 alone as a result of distracted driving and another 416,000 were injured. Further NHTSA statistics indicate that 18 percent of all crashes involving injuries in 2010 involved distracted driving, and that text messaging creates a crash risk that is 23 times worse than the risk faced by a normal driver who is not operating a vehicle while texting. Moreover, the NHTSA indicates that, “headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than handheld use.” This statement was made as a result of a study ordered by the Department of Transportation that involved 203 commercial drivers.
The Impact of the Change in Texting Laws
While California continues to have tough texting and cell phone laws, the new legislation relaxing the ban on cell phone use could result in a significant increase in risk for drivers throughout the state. The NHTSA position is clear that distraction is dangerous and that cell phone use-even when using a headset-is still a major cause of accidents. While drivers may not take their eyes off the road or their hands off the wheel while sending texts using voice-activated methods, their energy and attention is still diverted from operating the vehicle safely.
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