California lets drivers sidestep anti-texting law with voice control

The "Freedom to Communicate" bill goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, greenlighting hands-free communications while behind the steering wheel.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Intellectually speaking, I am in favor of laws that prohibit drivers from texting while driving. It would be nice if there was a federal stance on this, as has been suggested by Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood. But in the meantime, I'll settle for more people using common sense on this sort of thing.

And I do worry about the impact on telematics systems that are helping driving fleet efficiency efforts.

So, I read with interest that California Governor Jerry Brown is looking for what you might call a compromise. He has signed what is being called the "Freedom to Communicate" bill, which allows drivers to use devices "specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, or listen to a text-based communication."

The law is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

It doesn't specify what devices are covered, but suffice to say that the steering wheel is the only thing meant to be in your hands while you are driving, not an electronic gadget. And, about that, there is bound to be confusion.

The Silicon Valley Mercury News reports that the California Highway Patrol considers the act of turning on a phone or pushing any kind of button to get a voice interaction enough to warrant a citation. "The phone can't be in your hands," CHP spokeswoman Jaime Coffee told the Merc. "Hands-free is the key."

Since 38 states currently have hands-free laws on their books, it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear about other states following California's lead. But all this could be superseded by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is looking more closely at built-in telematics and communications technologies starting this year.

[via Wired]

(Image courtesy of Stock.xchng)

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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