Hands Free and So What?

California went “hands-free” last week. Do you feel safer? If you do, think again…and read on. (Same for if–especially if–you don’t.)

“Hands-free” refers to cell phone users not using one of their hands to hold the cell phone to one of their ears, specifically while driving. We in California have been warned for months that as of July 1, 2008 anyone caught in the driver’s seat of a moving vehicle in the Golden State, using one had to hold a cell phone to an ear, and having a conversation on that cell phone, while driving, would be legally entitled to a fine. The CA law seems to be mostly concerned with the occupation of the cell phone-holding-hand, and, in an interesting twist, whether or not a conversation is actually taking place on the cell phone.

Did anyone who signed this bill into law ever think about what was being signed and if it made any sense? I have to assume that no one did, because this law makes absolutely no sense if the intent was to cut down on the number of accidents.

As anyone who has ever used a cell phone head set with an earpiece attachment will tell you, using these head sets is the biggest threat to highway safety that could ever have been thought up. Over the span of four years, I have yet to find an earpiece that will stay in my ear. Blame it on my ears, but that’s a fact–and believe me, I’ve tried on more models than Imelda Marcos has shoes.

In asking other would-be earpiece users, the problem of getting these earpieces to stay in place is universally known. So what ends up happening is, when the piece falls out of a vehicle driver’s ear while driving and a conversation are simultaneously in process, suddenly the driver becomes obsessed with reconnecting the earpiece to the ear…leaving no hands free to be full-time on the steering wheel. This, need I remind you, is a no-brainer recipe for disaster.

I know, I know, there is Bluetooth to the rescue–no earpiece that sticks in your ear and has to stay there on its own volition. But I have an objection to spending the money to buy one of those things, especially when it makes the wearer look like a just-dropped-in alien of a Star Wars sort. Just not my style, but if it’s yours, consider this: In the past two weeks the old feared connections between cell phones being held next to the head–and this includes Bluetooth too–and brain cancer have again risen to the surface. It seems the only good a Bluetooth piece would do you is to decorate your head in the geekiest of ways, and oh yes–keep you free from fine eligibility while driving and talking in California.

Furthermore, what makes this particular hands-free California law even more absurd, is that being fined all depends on whether you are actually talking on the cell phone held in your hand or not. So, you can presumably just hold a cell phone to your ear while driving, and as long as you’re not “ “having a conversation,” you are legal. But why would you do this? And how could the arresting law enforcement person prove that you had actually been having a conversation, as opposed to just warming your ear, or clutching the cell phone as a security blanket to keep you calm as you drive?

You can also legally send text messages while driving. Isn’t that a good idea and a comforting thought too? You can take your eyes off the road while taking both your hands off the wheel to send a text message–and not be fined–as long as you’re not having a verbal conversation on that–or any other hand-held cell phone–at the time you are texting. Keep in mind that in this scenario you would have to grow a third arm, complete with hand, in order to have a hand available to accomplish this, but no problem there–that’s considered legal too…as long as you don’t have a conversation on the second cell phone while that third hand holds it to your ear. Of course, you might kill yourself–and others–doing this, but at least you won’t be fined, and isn’t that the name of this game…”10,001 Ways to Avoid the Free-Hands Fine?”

Actually, I think the real solution here is to keep raising the price of gas. As it now, more and more of us are not going anywhere because of that, so soon, cell phone use in cars will become extinct. Then I can just pitch my cell phone itself, save myself one more monthly fee, and guarantee that I will forever be free of the threat of hands-free fines. Oh the joy! Real freedom at last!

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