Hands-free cell phone law in effect soon

Soon, driving and holding a cell phone will be illegal in California, and talking on the phone in your car will look safer with a hands-free set.

"Unfortunately we cannot get everyone. However, if you are observed with this violation, you will be cited appropriately," says Trent Cross with the CHP.

California's hands-free cell phone law goes into effect July 1, 2008, with no grace period. The first offense will be a $20 citation and $50 for every time after that.

Young drivers, those under the age of 18, will not be allowed to use a phone at all in the car.

"If you're under the age of 18, no cell phone at all, no text messaging. It's really pretty simple. If you put the two laws together, if you're 18 or over it's hands-free, if you're under 18, hands-off," says Sen. Joe Simitian (D) of Palo Alto.

Senator Simitian authored the bill that's now the law. He got the idea during his first campaign.

"Somebody asked me point blank, 'Would you be willing to outlaw cell phones?' I said probably not, and then within the next week or so I heard from some people who said, 'You know there's middle ground, hands-free,'" said Simitian.

Santa Cruz-based Plantronics is the largest headset manufacturer in California.

It did a survey of 400 California drivers and found 65-percent say they regularly use their cell phones while driving. Still, 44-percent didn't know when the law goes into effect and more than 70-percent don't know how it works.

Simitian says going hands-free will save between 300 and 900 lives a year.

"Every year for the past six years in a row the highway patrol says cell phones are the number one cause of distracted accidents in California," said Simitian.

Regardless, some studies show that while going hands-free will get rid of the physical distraction, talking on the phone is still a significant mental distraction.

Simitian, the CHP, and even Plantronics agree no phone is best.

"We strongly encourage motorists not to use cell phones while driving because operating a motor vehicle requires your full attention as well as having both hands on the steering wheel," says Cross.

"We actually agree with that. You're driving a 4,000 pound vehicle it's probably a good idea to focus on that as opposed to a phone call or anything else," said Clay Hausmann from Plantronics.

Hands-free devices include ear-buds attached by a cord to the phone and there are lots of wireless blue-tooth head-sets by a variety of manufacturers.

At Plantronics Santa Cruz Headquarters, a wall of ears makes sure their products fit a wide variety of ears.

You've got until July 1, 2008 to find one that fits you.

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