When Assembly Bill 1785 takes effect, on January 1 of 2017, simply holding your phone while driving in California will become a ticketable offense, punishable with a $20 fine for the first offense, and $50 for subsequent offenses.
The bill expands on the existing law, which prohibits phone use while driving, but limits that prohibition to texting and talking. As the new law makes clear, the objectionable behavior isn’t specifically texting or talking; it’s looking away from the road ahead:
A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device unless the wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation, and it is used in that manner while driving.
The issue at the heart of these rules is distracted driving. When traveling at highways speeds, even the few seconds it takes to look away from the road to check a GPS map, for instance, put the driver and those around him at risk.
As does the current law, AB 1785 allows drivers the use of dash- or windshield-mounted electronic devices, which, depending on their placement, may be just as diverting as handheld units. Which suggests to me that even more wide-ranging legislation is called for.
This past summer, I watched with considerable trepidation as my newly licensed 19-year-old took to the roads in her first car. As are her Millennial cohorts, she might as well be surgically attached to her smartphone. And for all my hectoring and pleading, I knew she would at least occasionally succumb to the temptation to check this text or that Tweet. That puts lives at risk, literally.
Such fears gave rise to the idea of a software switch, installed either in the phone or in the car, that would disable any potentially driver-distracting functions when the car is started. Admittedly, that might be an extreme solution to the problem. But anything less is less than a real solution to the very real problem of distracted driving.
Reader Reality Check
If it were up to you, how would you manage distracted driving?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.