California relaxes texting while driving laws, other states may not follow suit 1Beginning next year, texting while driving will be legal in California…as long as you keep your hands off the phone.

On Friday, July 13th, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that will allow California drivers to utilize hands free technology as a means of texting while behind the wheel. Next year will mark the first time motorists can legally text while driving since a ban on writing, sending, or reading text based communications while operating a vehicle went into effect in January of 2009.

Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, called the auto industry sponsored bill, “a huge victory for commuters.” Miller went on to say that he, “can relate to the frustration of many Californians who were unable to communicate with friends, family and business partners while driving because it is currently against the law…” Unfortunately, inconveniences aside, the larger issue should be whether allowing drivers to use voice activated software for texting will alleviate the safety concerns that initiated a ban in the first place.

A report from the National Safety Council about the driving risks of hands-free and handheld cell phones (PDF) suggests that using a hands-free device still causes significant delays in reaction time and increases the driver’s likelihood of being involved in an accident. Although experts disagree on the exact numbers, and accurately quantifying someone’s chances of being in a car accident is nearly impossible, there’s little debate that the safest option is to not use your cell phone while driving.

This makes California’s updated and relaxed policy on texting while driving an interesting one, and one that may not be followed by other states across the country. According to a report from Oregon Live, Oregon is unlikely to follow California’s lead. In fact, the state of Oregon may be heading in the complete opposite direction. The article states:

If anything, say legislators who have taken up the distracted driving clause, the hands-free law will get stricter. Look for a revision that prohibits bicyclists from using handheld cell phones. Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie, has even told me that a total ban on cellphones by motorists is “a possibility.”

Despite being one of thirty-nine states to currently ban texting while driving, California is heading into largely uncharted territory when it comes to dealing with new technologies like Siri. And, until it plays out, it’s difficult to say whether allowing hands-free texting is a way of keeping up with emerging technologies or just implicitly condoning an activity many experts consider distracting and dangerous.

Where do you draw the line? Should people be able to update their Twitter profile while cruising at 60 miles per hour? Add a new status on Facebook while stuck in stop-and-go traffic? As long as they’re not touching their phone, the new law says “yes.” However, just because it’s going to be legal doesn’t mean it’s actually safe.

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Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.