Hands-free units are flying off the shelves

Cell phone users who want to avoid a chat with the police are snapping up hands-free devices in electronics stores across the Bay Area.

Best Buy mobile assistant Leo Rabago travels often between stores in San Mateo County, San Francisco and the East Bay. He estimates sales of the units have quadrupled in the past month as customers rush to comply with the hands-free and hands-off cell phone laws.

To keep using a cell phone while driving, adults have varied options, including a wired headset that runs from phone to ear, which usually costs from $15 to $30 and works with older phones; a hands-free Bluetooth unit that fits over the ear for $20 to $130; or a unit that fits on a vehicle’s dash or visor, from $80 to $200.

Then there’s the cheapest option — simply using the speakerphone option. While the sound quality isn’t the best, it’s become the de facto solution for many drivers who aren’t big chatters.

“Most days, I don’t use my cell phone in the car, but it definitely happens,” said Leah Goldberg, a San Francisco Internet product manager. “Eventually, I think I’ll end up getting some sort of headset, but until then I’ll just use the speakerphone.”

John Robbins, who manages a RadioShack in the Castro, said customers’ lifestyles dictate their choices in hands-free options. Businesspeople in particular are choosing high-end units that cancel out sound and allow them to switch back in forth between their PDAs and cell phones, he said.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

Similar laws have saved lives in other states

A May study by researcher Jed Kelko determined that outlawing talking on the phone while driving will save 300 lives each year.

Places that have implemented the law: New York, New Jersey, District of Columbia, Connecticut

Change in traffic fatalities one to six months after law took effect

-17% overall fatalities

-52% fatalities occurring during bad weather

-38 % fatalities occurring on wet roads

-17% fatalities occurring during rush hour

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