As California's hands-free mobile device law approaches its second anniversary this summer, evidence around town demonstrates that many drivers in Pleasanton take the hands-free directive too literally: They're driving without their hands.
Before I climb on my high horse, let me first admit that I, too, have attempted to drive and talk, drive and read, drive and sneeze, drive and eat, drive and sing, and drive while yelling at my kids. Most of these activities occurred with minimal success and were rarely repeated (except for yelling at the kids).
Instead, if the phone rings while I'm driving, either I ask my children to pose as my personal assistants or I say outloud, "We're sorry. Cameron is currently navigating the streets of Pleasanton in a four-ton, suburban-assault-vehicle filled with children."
The hands-free law, taken from the California 2010 Driver Handbook, states: "Regardless of age, it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communication device to write, send, or read text messages, instant messages, and e-mail(s)."
After choosing not to use awkward Bluetooth devices, I gave up the act of multitasking while driving. Now I decry folks who can't let go of their phones on our hometown streets.
This week I appointed myself the chief of an unauthorized sting operation aimed at finding, photographing and exposing blatant offenders.
First things first: I prepared my mobile unit. Before hitting the streets, I powered-up my laptop and placed it on my thighs against the steering wheel; a pillow wedged between my waist and the wheel helped stabilize the computer.
Pulling onto Valley Ave., I realized that with my left hand typing notes, my right hand was free to point the lens of my camera out the passenger-side window each time I spotted a lawbreaker.
The trouble with my setup was that writing with only one hand became challenging; I made too many typos. Always ready with a backup plan, I set down the camera and wrote with both hands. I picked up the camera only when ideal photo opportunities arose.
Soon I discovered that with both hands only a few inches from the wheel, steering with my pinkie fingers was much safer than steering with my knees. Nevertheless, my legs and hands grew tired.
Alas, I opted to park and spy. At four discreet locations around town – off Hopyard near the DMV, off Del Valle near a preschool, in the Black Ave. Post Office Parking lot, and in the Raley's shopping center, I took notes and photos. Authorities have yet to release images to the public.
Additional observations and clarifications from the Candid Cam experiment:
- When stopped at a red light with the engine running, the individual behind the wheel is still a driver. Don't text; don't dial; don't read or write emails; and don't check the stock market, confirm your massage appointment or monitor the status of your pizza order.
- Drivers under age 18 may not use mobile communication when driving, even with a hands-free device. I saw you, young man in the dark-red sports car pulling onto Del Valle Parkway from Amador High as you pecked at your phone.
- Using a cell phone's speaker component is only legal if the driver is not holding the phone. I've seen many a driver gripping a mobile phone in front of them, as if holding the phone in front of one's face is safer than holding to the ear.
- Applying lipstick while holding a cell phone and driving may leave you red-faced, especially if you're caught doing so on Candid Cam.
- Use resources at hand: On Wednesday evening at Muirwood and W. Las Positas, a man drove past me dialing his phone with the device perched atop the steering wheel. His two adult passengers sat idle in the car. Delegate, dude. Delegate.
- Finally, no law specifically prohibits the use of laptop computers, cameras, video games, nose-hair clippers or cappuccino makers while driving. Perhaps the state should enact such a law for deviants like me.
Cameron Sullivan is the author of the blog, Candid Cameron.