For years now, California legislators have been trying for years to pry cellphones from motorists' hands any way they can. First, they said we couldn't talk on them while driving. Then, we could no longer text while driving. Eventually, new laws banned us from holding them in our hand, even at traffic stops.
Now, the state is being pressured to enact the Mother of All Talking-on-Phone-While-Driving Prohibitions: Don't you dare even open your mouth while behind the wheel.
California officials were urged last week by federal officials to become the first state to ban even hands-free use of electronic devices by motorists.
At a kickoff event in Sacramento last week for Distracted Driving Awareness Month and California Teen Safe Driving Week, the head of safety recommendations for the National Transportation Safety Board urged the Golden State's lawmakers to pass just such a groundbreaking ban.
Nicholas Worrell, who heads up the NTSB's Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications, called the practice of talking while driving a "battle of self-defense" for young people.
So far, no state has followed up on the feds' recommendation of a ban for all hand-held and hands-free portable electronic devices.
"If California will lead," Worrell said, "the NTSB stands ready to support them."
Calls for such bans on hands-free chatting while driving have become louder. But states have been slow to act on prohibiting the behavior because it's become the new normal, and because it seems so safe and innocuous compared with doing banned things like texting or talking into the phone while behind the wheel.
California is often the national trendsetter in legislation, whether it's for privacy laws, carbon offsets or immigration reform. Now, eight years after the NTSB first recommended no hands-free talking while driving, the agency is continuing its push to get California to take the lead forward. The most recent California cellphone law, which was enacted in 2017, bans drivers from holding cellphones at all.
New technology inside cars may actually be contributing to an increase in distracted driving, some say. Because newer vehicles often feature touchscreens instead of knobs and buttons with specific functions, drivers have to take their eyes off the road more often to do things like change the radio station or the temperature.
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