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Hands-free options for driving and phoning

January 31, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Driving while holding a cellular phone can be dangerous. And soon it will be illegal in California.Here's how to get your car "hands-free" ready by the time the law goes into effect this summer.

Starting July 1, 2008, driving while holding a cell phone can result in a ticket.

"It will be illegal to use a wireless telephone while driving," said CHP Officer Rick Quintero. "Unless it's configured where you can use it hands-free."

To do it legally, many will simply use Bluetooth wireless headsets. These work OK while driving, but there are other solutions specifically made for the car.

The most sophisticated way to go hands-free is a car with a built-in Bluetooth system. Acura was the first company to offer these, and now most car makers have systems like this. What they essentially do is turn your car's audio system into a built-in speakerphone with nothing to connect to the phone itself.

Of course if you weren't already planning to buy a new car, this can be pretty expensive. So car-audio dealers are offering solutions to retro-fit your existing vehicle.

"There are lots of ways to do it, but probably the most convenient way to do it is to add a Bluetooth hands-free kit to your car," said John Haynes, Al & Ed's Auto Sound. "And it plays right through your speakers."

All sorts of kits can be added to give you a Bluetooth wireless connection while you drive, from simple to more elaborate. They start at less than $200, plus installation fees. Some can even look factory-installed.

Or if you were thinking of upgrading your car's stereo anyway, some new units are offering the Bluetooth feature.

There are some simpler solutions too. Magellan's latest portable navigation system, the Maestro, comes with Bluetooth. That way you can add two new-car technologies at the same time without any permanent installation.

If you'd still like to go the headset route, a Plantronics model is designed to stay in your car while you're not. It plugs right into the cigarette lighter socket to recharge. No more leaving the Bluetooth at home.

But even with sophisticated hands-free devices and the new law, phoning on the road can still be hazardous.

"It's still a distraction, so we want to make sure that the public is aware of that," said Officer Quintero. "That it is still a distraction, but we're trying to minimize the number of incidents that occur because of these distractions."

All the more reason to keep both hands on the wheel.

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Where to add hands-free technology to your existing car: Al & Ed's Auto Sound

Portable GPS with built-in Bluetooth technology: Magellan Maestro series

Bluetooth headset that charges in the car: Plantronics Discovery 665

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