Law works best in bad weather, study contends

Despite its relatively weak penalties, California’s hands-free law should save 300 lives each year, based on the drop in fatalities in other states that passed similar laws.

The prediction is based on a Public Policy Institute of California study released May 12, which found that the law will have the greatest effect when the weather is bad or the roads are wet.

Research fellow and study author Jed Kulko said the 300 lives saved would represent a 7 percent decline in the more than 4,000 deaths each year on California roads.

Kulko found that cell phone ownership appears to raise the number of traffic deaths — but only in bad weather. After hands-free laws were passed in other states, fatalities in adverse conditions dropped 30 percent to 60 percent.

One possible explanation for the drop in fatalities is that drivers find hands-free headsets and earpieces cumbersome, and use their phones less often as a result, Kulko said. Motorists in hands-free states may also be choosing to use their wireless minutes during times when driving conditions are good, he said.

“It’s also possible that having such a law serves an educational function. It warns people about the dangers of chatting while you drive,” he said.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

Q&A

The California Highway Patrol answers your questions about the new laws.

What is the fine for the first offense? $100 counting the base fine, assessments and fees for a first offense; up to $190 for a second offense.

When is the law in effect? Tuesday

Are you allowed to dial to make a call? Yes, but it is illegal to place the phone to your ear while talking.

What about text messaging? State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, has introduced legislation that would ban text messaging by all drivers beginning Jan. 1.

What about passengers? The law applies only to drivers.

Can you use your phone if it has a built-in speaker? Yes.

Would a violation be counted as a point on your record? No

Source: California Highway Patrol

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