Words, Words, Words.

Hands-Free in D.C.

Written for a D.C. law firm.

 

As of July 4th, 2004, the “hands-free” driving law is in effect in Washington, D.C., making it illegal to talk on a hand held device while driving. The law permits manual dialing, but a hands-free device such as an ear bud, headphones, or speakers must be used while talking. D.C. officers actively enforce this law, and the penalty is $100 per offense. Out of state drivers are held accountable as well. Emergency phone calls are considered an exception to the hands-free law. D.C. is not the first state to enact such a law. New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and Florida are among the states that have passed laws which limit the use of cell phones while driving.

The increased risk of using a cell phone while driving is well documented. 25% of all car accidents are caused by a distracted driver, and cell phone use is one of the main sources of this distraction. The numbers are even higher for teenage drivers. In 2002, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis reported 2,600 deaths and approximately 330,00 injuries as a result of cell phone use while driving. A recent study by the University of Utah found that the impairment experienced by a driver using a cell phone is equivalent to that of a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, the legal limit in D.C. The hands-free driving law was implemented to minimize danger to the driver, and to other drivers, passengers and pedestrians in the vicinity.

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, however, reported that the same number of accidents were caused by drivers using hands-free cell phones as by those using a hand held phone. An episode (#33) of the popular series Mythbusters came to a similar conclusion. The reasoning is that it is not the act of holding a cell phone that interferes with driving, but the performance of two complex mental tasks at once.

These facts present complicated legal issues in the case of an accident caused partially or wholly by cell phone use. If you have been in an accident in which cell phone use, either hands-free or hand held, is a factor, an experienced lawyer can help you understand your rights, and the responsibilities and culpability of the parties involved.

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    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

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