Under the Influence: Driving While Phoning

JOEL ZAND, FindLaw.com

On July 1, 2008, California's drivers will have to comply with the state's new hands-free headset if they want to use a mobile phone while on the road, or risk having to pay for their mistakes. If they don’t, they risk getting a $20 ticket the first time they are caught, and a $50 fine thereafter. But if you think that you don't have to worry because you don't live in L.A. or San Francisco, you’re wrong.

Six states currently have laws that ban holding a mobile phone while you're driving: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

Even more states -- 16 plus the District of Columbia -- ban school bus drivers from using their mobile phones while driving.

What's all the fuss about? Should you be concerned?

Highway Safety

A number of studies have found a dangerous link between using mobile phones to talk or text while driving, and an increase in traffic accidents. The results are eye-opening.

Researchers at the University of Utah found that drivers who talked with either hands-free or handheld mobile phones behaved just like drunk drivers: their ability to brake safely was delayed, and they had more accidents than when they weren’t talking on the phone.

Another study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers using mobile phones are four times more likely to have a car accident than those who weren’t. More than

255 million people subscribed to mobile phones at the end of December 2007, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.

These are the kinds of figures that state lawmakers worried about when they created new laws requiring drivers to use hands-free devices with their phones while driving.

Using a headset with your phone while driving won’t guarantee your safety. But will it help?

Gadget Overload

According to Major George L. Daniels of Virginia’s State Police, “multi-tasking has become such a daily part of our lives that many people don’t think about the risks to themselves and others when it’s done behind the wheel. It only takes a few seconds to change a CD, grab a drink, dial a cell phone, crash your vehicle and change a life forever.”

If you’re like me, you probably drive with your mobile phone on, ready to take calls from family and friends. If you are in an accident, or the car breaks down, the phone could be our lifeline for help.

Using a hands-free device with your phone while driving won’t prevent accidents, but it can help you keep your hands on the steering wheel where they belong. Once you’ve adjusted your phone’s settings, incoming calls will be transferred to the earpiece you where while driving.

The Law

As more states pass laws on using phones while driving, you’ll need to pay attention. Like DUI laws, states will start enforcing these driving-while-phoning restrictions.

Insurance companies are going to be watching these laws closely. If you have a car accident while talking on the phone, your insurance rates will probably to rise. You could also be liable to people you’ve injured in an accident if you’ve been on the phone while driving,

In the end, you’ve got some big decisions to make – before and after you get behind the wheel of your vehicle.

Quick Facts

  • Driving while holding a phone is currently banned in 6 states: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah, Washington, and the District of Columbia
  • Studies have found a link between using mobile phones while driving and an increase in traffic accidents
  • Issue to watch for: increased insurance rates if you have a "driving while phoning" accident or repeated "driving while phoning" violations
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