Texting Bans

Calif. to Treat Smart Phones in Cars as Just Slightly Less Dangerous than Loaded Guns

Don't drive and … touch … anything?


Texting and driving
Petarneychev / Dreamstime.com

The end of the year brings the whole host of reminders about the new laws that state legislatures have passed through the last term and are finally coming into effect.

California is fertile ground for legislative meddling in lives, and the start of every year brings stories about the hundreds of new rules coming into play. January will see new reasons for police to extract money from citizens—I mean, "protect public safety." A new state law makes it illegal to even hold your smart phone while you're driving. The Sacramento Bee (which opens its piece by simply asserting without evidence that "distracted driving has reached dangerous levels") explains AB 1785:

The law is designed to stop people from holding their phones for a variety of uses that have become popular in recent years, including checking and posting on Facebook, using Snapchat, scrolling through Spotify or Pandora playlists, typing addresses into the phone's mapping system, or making videos and taking photos.

A California Office of Traffic Safety study this year determined that 1 out of 8 drivers on the road is paying as much attention to his or her smartphone as to the road. State road safety officials estimate that some form of distracted driving is a factor in 80 percent of crashes. That's prompted numerous education and enforcement efforts in California aimed at reducing distracted driving.

Note the subtle shifting of facts in the second paragraph. More drivers are paying attention to their smartphones, causing distractions. Distractions factor into 80 percent of all crashes. But there is a huge failure there to actually connect smartphone use to an increase in crashes.

Crash stats had been going down in recent years but the trend had recently started reversing. A very, very relevant contributor to the shift is that more people are driving more miles as the economy has recovered. That's naturally, statistically going to lead to more collisions. Ed Krayewski looked over the fatal collision stats back in September and found the evidence that phones are making driving more dangerous underwhelming.

But politicians see little downside or negative consequence in passing laws that make people feel safer even if they don't, so here we are. The law does allow use of smartphones with voice activation and to touch the phone simply for the purpose of activating or deactivating an app, but the phone must also be placed in a mounted spot inside the car.

So anybody sitting there with the smartphone in their lap while having their GPS recite instructions to them is going to be breaking the law, even if they aren't holding it up to their ear or being "distracted" by it. California drivers could face additional fines if they get pulled over even when they aren't using a phone in a way that distracts them simply because it doesn't comply with the very restrictive rules on how the state says you should attach the phone to your car: "either a 7-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger side, or a 5-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield to the driver's left." The fine is $20 for the first offense and $50 for each additional offense.

If only there weren't some sort of way for police to evaluate and cite people for behavior behind the wheel that is dangerous to others that is not attached to an absurdly overbroad ban on a piece of technology, blaming it for the behavior and not the driver. Maybe something about those who engage in reckless driving habits without regard to others? Something like that?

Read more about the new law here and wonder if it'll still apply when we're all using self-driving cars.