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Cell phone law requires drivers to go hands free

By: Jenna Nielsen, Journal Staff Writer
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In less than two weeks, drivers across California will be forced to hang up and drive. Beginning July 1, anyone caught clutching a handheld behind the wheel of an automobile could be cited. First-time offenders could face fines ranging from $20 to $75 once bail and penalty costs are fac-tored in, according to the California Highway Patrol. Second citations can range from $150 to $190. And if you are under the age of 18, you are prohibited from using a cell phone while driving, pe-riod. Kelly Baraga, spokeswoman for CHP, said officers are ready to cite at zero hour. “Usually with new laws we have a 30-day grace period, but because we have been actively talking about it I don’t think this is going to be a surprise to anyone,” Baraga said. “It comes down to July 1 is the date and officers are aware of the citations they will be writing. If an officer sees someone with a cell phone up to their ear, the probably cause is there and they can initiate the stop.” While most drivers are aware they must comply, some are still adjusting to how they will do that. Doug Elmets, a self-proclaimed “Crackberry addict” — the friendly name which refers to those ob-sessed with Blackberrys — said he doesn’t know what he is going to do once the law takes effect. The owner of Elmets Communications, a Sacramento-based communications consulting firm for businesses, trade associations, public officials and government, said not using his phone in the car is going to be a big adjustment. “I am not really sure what I am going to do when I am forced not to use the phone while driving to San Francisco or Auburn,” Elmets said Thursday from his car on the way back to his office. “People have this expectation now that if they send an e-mail and there is not an immediate return that either I am blowing them off or am uninterested. And I guess maybe I have created that expectation.” Not e-mailing responses immediately while in the car will force him to manage two expectations, he said. “I am going to have to deal with my own expectation that I can’t be all things to all people all the time and manage other people’s expectations as well,” Elmets said. “If I am driving and I can’t re-spond instantly it’s almost going to be an attitude adjustment for myself. But maybe this law is good. It will probably force people to drive much safer, do some more quality thinking or have more quality conversations with the people you are in the car with.” There are a few exceptions to the law, Baraga said. “You can use a cell phone during an emergency situation if you are calling 911 or law enforce-ment,” Baraga said. “It is not a moving violation so a point won’t go on your record but it is some-thing you have to think about. When your insurance company is pulling up your record it will show that you have been cited and some insurance companies may frown on that and choose to raise your rates.” Teens cannot use any cell phone device while driving. “That applies to other electronic devices,” Baraga said. “IPods, nothing that takes away their atten-tion from driving.” Teens can only be pulled over and cited as a secondary offense, Baraga said. “I cannot stop someone to determine their age,” she said. “It has to be a situation where maybe I made a speed stop and noticed the teen is talking on an earpeice.” And for you text-and-drivers, be advised — texting may not illegal under the new law, but drivers are “strongly discouraged” from practicing the habit while driving, according to the CHP. Officers reserve the right to issue citations to drivers who are distracted. Hands-free devices have already been flying off the shelves of local cell phone accessory distribu-tors, including Auburn Car Tunes. “We are starting to sell a lot of portable ones,” said Brian Muenter, sales and marketing for Auburn Car Tunes. “People are looking for a quick fix and we have several ways to get you hands free in your car.” Muenter said he expects to see sales rise in the next couple of weeks and even after the law takes effect. “We plan on seeing people come in here after getting their first ticket and saying, ‘Oh, I really need to get one of these now,’” he said. Portable devices that clip to car visors have been the most popular sellers, he said. Earpeice sales have increased as well. Drivers who use earbuds should be aware that both ears can-not be covered while driving, Muenter mentioned. Baraga said cell phones were the leading cause of inattention crashes last year. Out of 1,091 cell phone-related accidents, 447 people were injured. “Driving is not multitasking, driving is driving a vehicle,” she said. “There is enough going on out-side the vehicle to be distracted by a cell phone inside.” The Journal’s Jenna Nielsen can be reached at jennan@goldcountrymedia.com or comment on this story at auburnjournal.com. Click here to find out more information about the new wireless telephone laws. Cell Phone Laws FAQ