It isn't a law quite yet, but a bill in the California assembly that will ban the use of cell phone without a hands-free device headset or other type of system has now passed. The bill continues on to the Senate for final approval and then to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for signature before becoming law, but there are indications that the Governor favors the bill and it may become reality. California Highway Patrol stats show that people with a phone in one hand against their head were responsible for 25 times more crashes than those with a hands-free system. David Berlind pointed out a study from 2005 that showed the accident rate is the same with and without hands-free phones. I think holding the phone up to your head is definitely a distraction and have personally seen drivers cutting people off and driving erratically as they try to stay on the phone while driving in lots of traffic or turning. I think people are a bit distracted even with a hands-free system, but at least they can turn their head in all directions, keep both eyes on the road, and keep two hands on the wheel. It looks like that iLane device I talked about a couple months ago may have a good target market in California soon. I personally have a Parrot 3200 LS-COLOR system installed in my truck and use it all the time for calls. In other vehicles I use a Cardo Scala 500 Bluetooth headset and will not buy a mobile phone without Bluetooth integration. Palm issued a press release stating they are the first and only current cell phone manufacturer to support the passage of the bill.
Many Assembly Republicans voted against the bill because of the government intrusion aspects and the slippery slope this type of legislation takes us down. If talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device becomes a law, then what about eating, doing your make-up, yelling at your kids, reading advertiser's billboards, etc. that also cause lots of distractions while driving? I think cell phones are the target right now because it is an easy thing to see a person doing while driving even though there may be lots of other situations distracting the driver. If the legislation becomes a law and kicks in in 2008 then drivers will be cited US$20 for the first offense and US$50 each time after that. 911 and emergency calls are currently exempt in the bill and two-way push-to-talk phones, like those from Nextel, may also be exempt for certain occupations.