When California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1536 into law last July, people either rejoiced or lamented. The controversial amendment to the Vehicle code legalized hands-free texting and emailing while driving. Obviously, half of the outraged public feels that this is encouraging driver distractions, and the other half – well, they just want to text.
Over the past several years, there’s been an increase in distracted driving that can be correlated to the advent of smartphones. Once people started texting and emailing from their cell phones, it became something of an addiction. According to the National Safety Council, texting while driving accounts for 1.6 million accidents each year.
Regardless, the majority of Californian drivers wanted this amendment to happen. And it’s not just California that is taking strides in this direction, either. Idaho signed a similar bill back in June of 2012—a month before California.
HOW DID THE LAW CHANGE?
Previously, the law forbade all electronic wireless communications while driving. This was most likely a quick reaction to the steep increase in distracted driving accidents. The amendment says that it’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle while simultaneously using an electronic wireless device, specifically citing text-based communications.
However, the amended portion permits devices that allow voice-operated messaging. This means that smartphones that have hands-free texting capabilities—Apple’s Siri, for example—are okay to use, as you can just dictate your message rather than typing.
Reading texts and emails while driving is still just as illegal, mind you. But speaking into your phone is ostensibly the same as speaking to a passenger, so it’s fine to do.
So not only is it okay to use OnStar navigation and other voice-controlled dashboard systems, but smartphone apps like Siri are fair game, too. This was a deliberate choice in selection of the law’s language.
NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY
Of course, this only pleases a certain part of the general public. Many people still feel that even though you can keep your eyes on the road, it’s where your mind is that’s important. And they do have a point. If your thoughts are on crafting an email, or thinking up a witty response to a text message, then they are not on the car in your blind spot or the man crossing the street in front of you.
But if we were to follow that train of thought, we would have to consider a few other things to be contributors to “distracted driving:”
- Listening to music
- Adjusting the temperature
- Talking to your passenger
These are all things everyone does in their car, and there hasn’t been a noticeably significant jump in distracted driving accidents as a result. As with most things, the key is moderation. Fortunately, there are several online defensive driving schools that can teach and reinforce safe driving practices.
Suffice it to say, this divisive issue still gets Californians heated. And because it’s still fairly new—the amendment went into action on January 1—only time will tell if we see a significant spike in accidents.