There is so much detail in the upcoming legislation (January 2010?) prohibiting the use of cell phones, portable electronic devices and text messaging while driving, that Road Rules recommends taking the time to read and listen to the various articles and broadcasts about them.
That these details expressly prohibit many actions that have become habitual for so many drivers makes it doubly important for everyone to focus on and contemplate the personal effort that compliance will require. The serious fines and penalty points for non-compliance provide incentive, of course.
The backgrounder to Solicitor General Kash Heed’s announcement of the amendments summarizes the actions and devices that will be prohibited—and allowed, and the special prohibitions for drivers in the graduated licensing program—and exemptions for police, fire and ambulance personnel as follows:
No operating or holding hand-held cell phones or other electronic devices.
No sending or reading emails and/or texting (e.g., BlackBerry, PDA, cell phone).
No operating or holding hand-held music or portable gaming devices (e.g., MP3 players, iPods).
No manual programming or adjusting GPS systems, whether built into the vehicle or not, while driving. Settings must be programmed before driving.
Operating hands-free cell phones built in or securely fixed to the vehicle by pressing a single button –once only– in order to activate the device for incoming or outgoing calls.
Operating pre-programmed, voice-activated GPS devices.
Operating two-way radios for industry (e.g., trucking, logging, oil and gas).
Calling 911 to report an emergency.
Any of the above devices can be used if the vehicle is legally parked and not impeding traffic.
Graduated License Drivers (GLP)
In addition to the above restrictions and permitted actions, new drivers are prohibited from using hands-free communications devices, (e.g., cell phones) while driving.
Police, Fire and Ambulance Personnel
Communications by police, fire, and ambulance personnel in the performance of their duties are exempt from the above restrictions.
These proposed changes, having received opposition support, are expected to become law on January 1st, 2010. At the end of the one-month introductory grace period, motorists caught talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving will be fined $167. Motorists caught emailing or texting will be fined the same amount and penalized three penalty points. Non-compliant GLP drivers will also be both fined and penalized.
Commentators have noted that the potential solutions for complying with the hands-free cell phone requirement range from inexpensive wired headsets and earpieces to Bluetooth-integrated cars that automatically link with a cell-phone and transmit a caller’s voice through the stereo system.
Debate about the effectiveness of the hands-free permission continues. University of Utah psychologist David Strayer, apparently a leading expert on “inattention blindness” contends that hand-held or hands-free technology is beside the point saying, “those who prefer to chat while keeping their hands on the wheel are just as distracted.” A wise editorial also points out that drivers still need to remember that electronic devices aren’t the only culprits. Crashes can happen when drivers are momentarily distracted whatever the source.