Ryan Chartrand

Both hands on the wheel! Two new state cell phone laws went into effect Monday prohibiting drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone.

Last year, 1,091 vehicle collisions statewide were associated with the use of handheld cell phones while driving, said Michael Duenas, San Luis Obispo’s California Highway Patrol public affairs coordinator.

“The law was written to ultimately save lives and cause fewer accidents . and to reduce property damage in accidents,” Duenas said. “If you are under 18, you have to realize that if you’re driving a vehicle, you can’t use any device which allows you to communicate electronically (including hands-free or speaker phones).”

The first law bars all drivers from using a handheld cell phone while operating a motor vehicle; the second prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a wireless phone or hands-free device at all.

Although offenses will not lead to violation points on the violator’s driving record, a first offense can cost up to $76, and a second offense and any subsequent citations can cost up to $190, Duenas said.

“Just like the seat belt law, drivers can get pulled over if they have a cell phone pressed to their ear,” said San Luis Obispo Police Department Sgt. Jeff Booth. “The law was enforced as of the first of January 2007, but it takes effect (July 1).”

However, minors cannot be stopped by an officer simply for using a hands-free device, Duenas said. This particular violation is considered a secondary violation, meaning that a law enforcement officer may only cite driving minors for using a hands-free wireless phone if they were pulled over for another violation, Duenas said.

“If anyone, no matter what their age is, is seen driving with a cell phone to their ear, it’s a primary violation, and officers can stop you for that alone,” Duenas said. He did mention, though, that passengers can use cell phones freely.

The law is more strict for provisional drivers because statistics show that teens are more likely to be involved in accidents due to lack of driving experience and greater risk-taking tendencies, according to the California Highway Patrol Web site.

There is only one exception to the law – emergency phone calls. The law allows drivers to use wireless phones to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department or other emergency services agency.

As of yet, texting while driving is not illegal, although the CHP strongly discourages it, and drivers can still be pulled over for reckless driving that could result from texting.

“I don’t think it will change my (cell phone) habits, because it’s just as convenient (to use a hands-free device),” said architecture senior Nick Seward, who purchased a Bluetooth device for $130.

“I probably won’t (purchase a Bluetooth). I’ll just wait until I get to wherever I’m going, and call them back,” said animal science senior Mae Richie.

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