California's new cell phone law isn't logical. So what?

My colleague Mike Elgan points out in his blog that California's new cell phone law fails the logic test. As Mike notes, the new rule outlaws holding a phone to your ear while driving -- but it's still legal to use a hands-free headset or even to send a text message.

He's right that this doesn't make a lot of sense. If distracted driving is the issue, then it should be illegal to talk on the phone at all. After all, studies have shown that drivers using hands-free devices are just as distracted as drivers using handheld phones. And texting is even worse, because you have to take your eyes off the road to read and type messages.

And if the issue is that holding something in your hand increases the chance of accidents, Mike argues, then taking your hand off the wheel to hold anything in your hand should be illegal. I'll go along with that logic in theory, but do you really think anyone's ever going to pass that law?

Here in the real world, not everything is black and white, one or the other. Both talking on the phone and holding something in your hand while driving are accident risks. Making a call with a handheld phone combines both of those risks, so it makes sense to outlaw the double-risk behavior.

Of course, text messaging absolutely should have been outlawed as well, since it involves both of these risks, plus a third -- taking your eyes from the road.

But there's also the enforceability factor. At 70 miles per hour (the going speed here on San Francisco Bay Area freeways), how can police tell whether someone's wearing a tiny Bluetooth headset or holding a cell phone down on the seat next to them to send a text message? But even at top speed they can see you holding a phone up to your head and nab you for it. The law that was passed is actually enforceable, not some ideal.

Is this the best law ever written? Certainly not. Is it a step in the right direction, in the real world? You bet.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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