California is one of the strictest states in the nation when it comes to cell phone use, and Los Angeles is no exception. In fact, the state took their law a step further last September when the state’s legislature passed Assembly Bill 1785, which prohibits cell phone use of any kind unless it’s mounted to a dashboard or in voice activation mode. Governor Jerry Brown signed the measure into law last fall, and it took effect on January 1st of this year. Under the measure, people who are holding their phone in their hand while driving are subject to a $20 fine on the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.
The law came in response to disturbing data from the California Office of Traffic Safety, which found that 80% of all vehicle crashes throughout the state involve driver inattention. Throughout the nation, 3,000 people lose their lives each year as a result of distracted driving, and talking or texting on a cell phone is the most common form of distraction.
Results in Better Enforcement
One of the driving forces behind the law, according to Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), is it makes it easier for law enforcement to cite violators. California has long had a texting and driving law on the books, but other forms of handheld phone use, such as using Facebook or shooting a video, has technically been legal. By making holding a cell phone illegal, the bill closes any loop holes and makes it easier for police officers to ticket distracted drivers.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sending a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. Traveling at 55 miles per hour, you travel the length of a football field without watching the roadway. This exponentially increases your likelihood of hurting yourself – or someone else – in an accident.
Since many newer vehicle models come with hands-free calling, most residents will adapt readily to the new law. Others have the option of mounting their phones to the dashboard to use GPS or other features.
So, Will the Hands-free Law in CA Make a Difference?
We’re nearly one year into the new restrictions, so many wonder if it’s made any difference in controlling the amount of distracted driving injury and death. Unfortunately, we don’t have any published research that points to its efficacy. However, research shows that states that have texting bans have an average of 7% reduction rate in hospitalizations related to crashes across all age groups.
The reductions are more significant across those aged 22 to 64 and over the age of 65. If texting bans are effective in controlling the rate of injuries and hospitalizations, we can probably infer that handheld use bans will be effective in preventing injury as well. We can only wait to see the extent to which this ban reduces injuries.
Hand-free phone use is here to stay in LA, at least for the time being. It will be interesting to see how the new law affects the crash rate and whether other states will follow in California’s footsteps, passing hands-free laws of their own.