In a time-wasting attempt to earn back an iota of public approval, California Governor Jerry Brown just OKed a new law that (sort of, not really) allows texting while driving.
The law, proposed by L.A.-area Assemblyman Jeff Miller, says that you can now send and receive texts on the road — as long as you're “using an electronic wireless communications device that is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation.”
But unless your phone is able to boot into voice-command mode on its own…
… Sacramento's big gift to multitasking commuters (Miller dramatically called it the “Freedom to Communicate” act, and reportedly got the auto industry to pay for it) is more of an empty promise.
When the San Jose Mercury News asked whether drivers will be able to reach down and activate voice apps like Siri while driving, Miller's office took the safe route and assumed that no, that would still be illegal.
Which makes the new law completely useless for iPhone users — because as far as we know, Siri cannot be launched by voice command. (Unless you jailbreak your iPhone, which can have loads of annoying side-consequences. We speak from experience.) So you still have to use your finger to press the middle button before you can verbally dictate a text.
But guess what? All this is irrelevant anyway, because the CHP abides by one enforcement rule only: If your eyes are off the road for any reason, they can pull you over for distracted driving.
Did you know that it's still technically legal to scroll for telephone numbers or push the “answer call” button while driving? This, according to CHP spokeswoman Charmaine Fajardo, who says that under the new texting law, it remains entirely unclear whether you can press the Siri button on the road — but that that's not the point.
“In all honesty, if you put too much out there, then people are going to start misusing it,” says Fajardo. “We don't want people to start making up excuses, like, 'I was just looking for a number.'”
She says CHP officers can decide to pull you over for anything from applying makeup to eating a sandwich, as long as it's affecting your driving. Fajardo adds that she recently “took a crash from a gentleman because he was reaching for a Snickers in the middle console.”
So essentially, lawmakers have been wasting everyone's time by hurling arbitrary rules into a legal gray area.
In the case of AB 1536, it appears the auto industry (who sponsored the bill) wanted drivers to feel a sense of liberation surrounding their in-car communications. How very Riverside Republican, yes? And the bill could conveniently be co-pitched by Assemblyman Miller as an effort to encourage dangerous road texters to do the deed via Bluetooth.
“People are already used to doing it,” Fajardo says of texting while driving. “And now they feel we're taking it away from them.”
State Legislature to the rescue!