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The new California traffic ticket: DWT - Driving While Talking on a cell phone

Wed Jun 11, 2008 - 1:00 PM EDT - By Jay Gross


Beginning July 1, the California hands-free driving law (SB1613) prohibits drivers from using a handheld wireless phone while driving, except in �hands-free� mode. I call that DWT, driving while talking, or DWH, driving without headset.

Indeed, California drivers under 18 years old aren�t allowed to use cell phones at all, hands-free or otherwise, except in emergencies. It�s still legal to drive while applying makeup, eating lobster, disciplining children, arguing with backseat drivers, or practicing for the road rage event at the county fair.

California joins Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia in outlawing �DWT.� According to an April 22 article in Cellular-News, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, and the state of Washington are soon to follow. Washington has already outlawed texting while driving, effective July 1, 2008. Californians who get caught DWT could be fined $20 for a first offense, $50 for repeat infractions.

Some other areas restrict cell phone use while driving, even though the states they�re in do not. DeKalb County, where Atlanta is, assesses a fine if a wreck is caused by DWH.

International consensus

Many countries prohibit cell phone use while driving. According to Cellular-News again, the UK's South Wales Police ticketed 370 drivers during a two-week period in March. The UK put its law into effect in 2003. Although cell phone use isn�t specifically forbidden, drivers must keep both hands on the steering wheel. Guess that also excludes snacking, as well as some of the graphic gesticulation that road rage entails. Two-way radios don�t count, so the constabulary doesn�t have to practice what the legislators preach.

In England and Wales, drivers receive verbal warnings, but can be ticketed if the police feel it�s appropriate, although the law was to be fully enforced in Scotland and is not applicable in Northern Ireland. Road Safety Minister David Jamieson said, "You are four times more likely to be involved in an accident when using a mobile phone and driving - and this new offence will help make our roads safer."

DWT is partly or wholly illegal in: Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, some provinces of Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, some areas of India, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, parts of Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, some of Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Zimbabwe. Notice that doesn�t leave out many - just Botswana, New Zealand, and Sweden.

Pay attention!

So, what�s the problem? Research, some of it conflicting, proposes that the problem isn�t the unavailability of the hand that holds the phone, but the fact that the driver�s mind is focused on the conversation, not driving. If that�s true, a hands-free won�t make much difference. When I got my first cell phone years ago I resolved never ever to talk while driving, because of the many times I�d had to swerve or panic stop to avoid drivers who were on the phone.

My resolve didn�t even last till I got home. Only a mile away, I stopped at one of our bring-a-box-lunch traffic lights and decided there was plenty of time to make a call. There wasn�t. Although I didn�t cause any wrecks, I was definitely not a good road citizen for the rest of the trip.

Palm Treos and Centro smartphones support a variety of headsets, wired or not, plus car kits and speaker phones. Besides, the phones provide a built-in speaker phone, so you can lay the phone down, leaving your hands free for eating French fries. Oh, and driving.

To comply with the law, get a headset or a speaker phone. For a wireless thrill, look into Bluetooth gizmos. You can fit out your vehicle with a car kit that provides a mounting tray for the phone and keeps it charged. To dial without removing your hands from the wheel, add a voice dial application like VoiceDialIt. It will even let you open applications while people yell at you from their cars.

According to a study (PDF) by the Public Policy Institute of California, SB1613 could save an estimated 300 lives a year. Parking the cell phone is a small price for that.


When you�re driving, there�s nothing more important than getting to where you�re going in as few pieces as possible, preferably one. So, get the hands-free thing going if you must talk, and remember, the person you crash into might well be me!

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