Will hands-free cell phone law really help?

The in basket: Frank Haney of Port Orchard e-mailed last October after I wrote about some misunderstandings as to what the hands-free cell phone law will forbid and when it is effective, which is July 1.
I had debunked a notion my wife had overheard at a garage sale that Bluetooth, the wireless earpiece that lets you talk without holding a cell phone to your ear, would be illegal if worn in the ear next to the window. It won’t.
But Frank wrote, “I don’t know if your wife’s friend is really off-base with the Bluetooth idea. I think that right now with the law as it currently is, the Bluetooth is an illegal device while drive a motor vehicle in the State of Washington.
“How do I think this, you ask?, Well, here you go.
“In the State of Washington, it is illegal to wear headphones or ear plugs while operating a motor vehicle on the public highways,” Frank said. “Things like iPods, cassette players and such are strictly forbidden when used with ear devices that would block or hinder the wearer from hearing outside noise such as other vehicles honking horns or, better yet, emergency vehicles running code.”
The out basket: Krista Hedstrom, spokeswoman for the local State Patrol detachment, says “The Bluetooth wireless device is allowed by law because it only covers one ear and allows you to hear what is going on within your surroundings.  
“Earphones, on the other hand, go in both ears, not allowing you to hear what is going on – which is why they are illegal while driving. 
 “The hands-free law does not apply to those driving an emergency vehicle or tow truck, those reporting illegal activity or emergencies, and does not apply to a person using a hearing aid,” she added in an aside.
The hand-free law forbids only holding a cell phone to your ear while driving. You still can dial one or look down at one.
I think those who consider this some major breakthrough in highway safety are kidding themselves. My personal experience tells me it will make things worse.
My Bluetooth set won’t stay in my ear. The wire loop over my ear yanks it out. I’ve always worn one of the largest hat sizes, so maybe my ears are outsized too. Anyway, I have to fiddle with the thing as I drive to keep it in my ear. And making sure whether it’s turned on or not is another distraction.
A wire is even worse. It can get tangled up. Finding it in a dark car in motion is hard and risky, and then you have to get it into your ear or – Heaven forbid – plugged into your cell phone.
I know all of this can be avoided by planning ahead or having the ear piece in your ear before starting out. But I expect thousands of cell phone users to be fumbling around with their new ear pieces around July 1, especially during incoming calls, and that a spike in wrecks will result.
Our new Prius is Bluetooth compatible, meaning you hear the phone call through a speaker in the car, so that may not be so bad. But most cars aren’t.
Krista says, “The WSP encourages drivers to become familiar with the hands-free device they have purchased prior to using it, and know how it operates so that it does not take away from their ability to drive. There are several hands-free devices; the one that clips onto your visor seems to be popular.
“Many people choose to leave the hands-free device attached to their ear the entire time they are in the car, that way they are not struggling to put it in place once they get a call,” she added. 

3 thoughts on “Will hands-free cell phone law really help?

  1. Can you be pulled over just because you are using a cell phone without a headset, or do you have to be doing something else wrong before they can pull you over?

  2. It’s a secondary offense. You have to be pulled over for speeding or some primary offense before you can be ticketed for having a cell phone on your ear.

  3. Years ago, when we first bought our Town Car, and cell phones were new and rather bulky things, we had one installed in the car.
    The handset is on the transmission hump, easily accessible. The keypad is on top. Any normally used number was a one-button touch. There was a microphone on the sun visor, a speaker hidden somewhere.
    Sounds like the perfect hands free operation, and it was.
    BUT! I also found it to be very distracting. If I was alone, and trying to hold a conversation, even though I had nothing in my hand, I had to divide my attention between what I was doing, and what we were talking about. Not too much of a problem until heavy traffic, or decisions had to be made quickly (which lane- am I clear?- what’s he going to do?).
    With a passenger, both are aware of the surroundings, conversation procedes fairly normally, pauses make sense. There are no conflicts.
    Quite different when one is trying to communicate with a party who is not there.
    Hands free, or hand-held, actually, not much difference.
    Of course, if one is dumb enough to continue talking on the hands-free or otherwise after a traffic stop…welll…

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