Monday, June 23, 2008

New Cell Phone Law July 1, 2008

Max Turner, 17, uses his phone while parked in his car in Corte Madera. On July 1, a state law goes into effect that prohibits teens from using the phone while driving and requires adult drivers to use a hands-free device.

Drivers, retailers prepare for state law on cell phones

John Dugan
Article Launched: 06/23/2008 12:00:57 AM PDT


CORTE MADERA resident Max Turner isn't fretting about a new law barring cell phone use while driving.

"I think it would be hard to keep from talking while I drive, if I was really going to obey the law," said Turner, 17, a senior at Redwood High School. "If someone calls me in the car, I'm still going to pick it up."

Starting July 1, state law will prohibit teenagers from using cell phones while driving. Adults over 18 years old can use a cell phone, but only with a hands-free attachment.

Turner isn't the only teen in Marin dismissive of the new law. California Highway Patrol Officer Mary Ziegenbein said she spoke to students at Novato and San Marin high schools, and most of the kids already knew about the law.

"They didn't seem very worried about it," Ziegenbein said.

Teens and adults alike may not have to worry much about the new law. Ziegenbein said CHP officers won't be pulling over motorists for cell phone infractions alone.

"Our focus now is, and has always been, on watching for speeding, reckless driving, dangerous incidents like that," Ziegenbein said. "We're not going out looking for people on cell phones. We could, per the law, pull them over for that, but that's not our focus."

California is the fifth state to enact a cell phone driving law, joining Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Washington and Washington, D.C. Violations will carry a minimum fine of $20 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.

Drivers under 18 are banned from using cell phones in 17 other states.

According to CHP statistics, 1,091 crashes in 2007 were caused by drivers using hand-held cell phones. A total of 447 people were injured in those crashes.

"People don't seem to be aware when they talk on their cell phones," said Dara Moskowitz, 67, of Terra Linda. "I've seen enough crashes happen to think, 'It's not that important to answer the phone. You'll get the message later.'"

Moskowitz said she is happy with the new law and hopes it will discourage teenage drivers from being distracted.

Turner said he doesn't make calls while he's driving, but he does answer when someone calls him. He said that's the way most teenagers operate when they are driving, something that is not likely to change with the new law.

"I don't think a lot of kids are aware of the new law," Turner said. "Even if they are, I don't think it's going to change much."

The caveat of using a headset is not a saving grace for Turner, who turns 18 on Dec. 8.

"The headset is kind of dorky," he said. "It makes me look like Mr. Spock."

Turner said his mom is planning to buy a new phone that has Bluetooth capability, a technology that allows for wireless headsets.

John Daley, the owner of Nexcomm Wireless in San Rafael, said sales of headsets have increased dramatically in recent months. He said customers are constantly asking about the new law.

"We're having difficulty keeping our most popular models of headsets in stock," Daley said. "We've started beefing up our inventory big-time."

Moskowitz said she does not have a headset yet. She plans to get one, but is not in a hurry.

"If I have to answer the phone, I pull over and answer it," Moskowitz said. "I didn't grow up with a cell phone attached to my ear, so it's not such a major thing for me."

Moskowitz said she doesn't think people will take the law seriously until word gets out about tickets being issued. Daley similarly expects even bigger business once the law goes into effect.

"When the first tickets start getting handed out, we'll see even more sales," Daley said.

Ziegenbein said the new law will not affect the way she patrols.

Turner said he can see the benefit of the new law.

"It's all about reducing distractions, which I understand," Turner said. "At the same time, I'm not very happy about it.

"I try not to talk on the phone when I'm driving," he said. "I still find I do it a lot, though."

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Over the years my opinions have changed but this will never change: Jesus Christ, Lord, God and Savior, died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay for my sin.