Trimmers and tweakers

John Taylor: March 28, 20080 Comments

Fumbling for CDs. Scolding kids. Trimming nose hairs. Weaving all over the road at various speeds. You've probably seen them all, too (well, maybe not the nose activity, but consider yourself lucky).


Unless there's an accident, or a cop is eagle-eyed or very bored, drivers get away with all these. Come July 1, however, you can be fined for using a cell phone without a hands-free device. And, if you're younger than 18, you're prohibited from using any cell phone, pager or laptop while driving -- lots of luck (and citation opportunities) there.


The two new laws (SB 1613 and SB 33) are good news. But wait. Media have recently pointed to research that finds no significant benefits from hands-free laws (already enacted in places like New York and Washington states and the District of Columbia). Gurus at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center say hands-free devices may make road problems worse -- with drivers making longer or more numerous calls.


Other researchers say 2,600 people die and another 12,000 are seriously injured annually by crashes involving cell phones.  A University of Utah study found that cell phone users performed about as ably as those who were legally drunk.


At issue is something called "cognitive capture" -- being so tweaked out about your conversation that you ignore cues about what is happening on the road.


Of course, we also have GPS gizmos on dashboards. And then there are multiple built-in and portable DVD players on-board clamoring for attention.


Way too many distractions as hordes of vehicles cram chewed-up roads. How best to attain correct "cognitive capture"? I must admit, on seeing the gentleman trimming his beak in a twisted rear-view mirror and steering with his knees, I gave him a citation with my horn.


(More hands-free laws details, http://www.dmv.ca.gov/cellularphonelaws/index.htm )