Study says new cell phone law won't help

A new law requires California drivers to use hands-free devices when talking on cell phones while driving starting July 1.

The idea is to reduce crashes.

Click in the Eyewitness News story window above to watch Rob Hayes' report.

Roughly 2,600 people are killed each year, and 1,200 are seriously injured in traffic wrecks involving drivers who were using cell phones.

With numbers like that pushed the passage of the state's new hands-free law, but with the law set to kick-in just a few months from now, experts are questioning whether any lives will actually be saved.

"People they talk on the phone, they don't realize what's going on out there," said one frustrated local.

"They're trying to drive, and they're just really not doing what they're doing. They're more looking on their phone than what they're doing," another local said. But road safety experts aren't that sold on the hands-free laws.

They say the key to safe driving isn't where your hands are -- it's where your mind is. "You're mentally engaged with this other person on the phone, and you're just not conscious, not attending to the roadway the way you normally would be," said Arthur Goodwin from the UNC Highway Safety Research Center.

Goodwin said hands-free laws are passed because they sound like a good idea, but the laws may actually encourage more cell phone use because it's easier for a driver to talk on a hands-free phone.

"Some people, I think, will interpret that as 'well I can't use my hand-held phone, but hands-free is allowed. That must be a safer alternative,' and the research clearly shows that that's not the case," Goodwin said.

"They're still gonna be talking and doing everything else, but their hands will be free. I don't think it's gonna make that big of a difference," said Ed White, a local resident. One thing is for certain though: the new law comes with a price tag for those determined to dial and drive.

Either pay up front for the hands-free technology, or pay for the citations you may get down the road.

Some people wonder if the fines are high enough to get people to put down their cell phones. First time offenders will get hit with a $20 ticket, and after that, the fine goes up to $50.

Driver's will not get hit with any insurance points.


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