Hands-Free Texting Could be a Touchy Situation

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

California is one of 39 states that bans texting while driving, but a new law that takes effect January 1 will allow people with voice-activated technology to send messages while they’re behind the wheel.

However, it’s not clear who will be able to take advantage of it.

Drivers still won’t be able to touch their phones, whether just to press a button turning it on or to activate voice recognition software. They can’t even reach into a pocket to take it out. That has netted them a hefty fine since the no-texting law took effect in 2009.

The new law would seem to favor in-dash hardware like that offered by OnStar over smartphone apps like Siri. But mixed messages continue to abound.  

The San Jose Mercury News reported that aides in the office of Assemblyman Jeff Miller, who introduced the legislation signed into law Friday, said it would be illegal to use a phone for voice-activated texting, including one with Siri software. But MSNBC reported that a spokesman for Miller said that while the bill was “not crafted to apply to phones,” the drafters thought Siri qualified.

Glenn Abel, editor of Hands-Free Info online, did not seem surprised at the confusion when he wrote on his website, “the larger trend is that these laws get passed pretty quickly or by people who don’t understand the technology. And they’re finding that once they get these laws into the field, there are problems, so they come back and try to fine-tune everything.”   

But whether the voice-activated texting is accomplished through an in-dash device or smartphone, many supporters of distracted-drivers laws are still wary. Automobile Club of America CEO and President Robert L. Darbelnet warns, “Available research evidence is extremely limited and highly inconclusive on the real risks that in-car communications technologies pose to drivers, even when systems are limited to voice-activation only.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

New Law Allows Hands-Free Texting While Driving in California, Sort of (by Mike Rosenberg, San Jose Mercury News)

Hands-Free Texting OK’d in California (by Glenn Abel, Hands-Free Info)

California Legalizes Hands-Free Texting while Driving (by Devin Coldewey, MSNBC)

AAA Statement on Department of Transportation Distracted Driving Guidelines (Automobile Club of America)

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