No one ever said the law was simple. That’s a tense subject for San Jose Mercury News columnist Gary Richards, who penned an editorial yesterday on California’s “confusing” distracted driving laws. At issue are loopholes that can hold drivers accountable for minor infractions while letting them off the hook for seriously dangerous behavior. While it’s important to point out the inconsistencies in California distracted driving laws that could limit their effectiveness, the editorial misses the point of distracted driving danger: instead of agonizing over these laws, just shut the phone down while you’re driving. That way, you won’t get a ticket, and you won’t get into a serious car accident.
Fed up with all these confusing rules, Richards proposes a simple solution: “Use a speakerphone (as long as it’s hands-free) or an earpiece to avoid a ticket.” While this is certainly safer than holding the phone to your head, one of the drivers he quotes has a better idea. In order to avoid the $159 first-time fine (which could increase to $300 this year), Fremont software engineer Paul Brown said he would throw his phone in the trunk while driving in order to avoid any chance of getting a ticket. “Better to just not tempt fate at all,” he said.
Brown’s advice is perfect, and should be adopted not just because it could help save a fortune in traffic tickets; it can also save lives. Research has shown that even when drivers use a handheld device, they are less focused on the road than they would be without having a conversation with a friend. Driving a multi-ton vehicle is serious business, and it’s difficult to predict traffic patterns. While part of your attention is on the phone conversation, road conditions could change, a car could swerve, or a bicyclist could dart out into the street. If any of these events happen, you’ll want 100% of your attention on the road to avoid catastrophe.
Of course, with the ability to talk to family and friends, write work emails, and look for directions on your phone while driving, avoiding the temptation to sneak a peak can be difficult. Fortunately, you’re not alone. A number of safety organizations, insurance companies, and phone companies have developed some great phone apps to prevent distracted driving. So until California gets better distracted driving laws, just turn the phone off, and if you’re having trouble with that, download the apps to help out.