Government Technology

Public Confused as Cell-Phone Laws Take Effect July First in California and Washington

May 21, 2008 By

A survey of licensed drivers in California and Washington shows overwhelming support for the coming hands-free law which takes effect July 1, but that it will have little effect on the cell phone usage of drivers. The survey also documents a great deal of confusion as to when the law actually takes effect, what the cost of the traffic fines are in their respective states, whether it's a primary or secondary law, and what kinds of devices can be used to comply with the new law.

The survey shows that 75 percent of drivers (California, 76 percent; Washington, 71 percent) support the law, while only 10 percent oppose it. It also shows that 75 percent of drivers consider cell phone use while driving to be dangerous -- yet 63 percent of respondents use their cell phone while driving on average about an hour a day, one quarter of their daily drive time, and primarily for non-urgent matters. Interestingly, key factors driving the purchase of a hands-free device by respondents were "obeying the law" and "safety" at 51 and 50 percent, respectively.

The study also revealed that 47 percent of drivers already use some type of hands-free device, whether it's a headset, the speaker of their cell phone, or a portable or installed hands-free car kit.

The survey was completed last month by Harris Interactive, a leading market research firm, and queried 997 drivers in California and Washington. It was commissioned by Parrot, a manufacturer of Bluetooth hands-free car kits.

The survey revealed that 41 percent of drivers in California and Washington currently use their cell phones while driving, with those between the ages of 35 and 45 spending 40 percent of their drive commute on the phone -- the largest proportion among the age groups surveyed. In addition, one in four respondents or 25 percent of drivers aged 34 or younger admitted to text messaging while driving.

Between the two states, Californians generally spend more time on the phones than their Washington counterparts (26 percent to 18 percent), corresponding to their respective commute periods (81.8 minutes for California and 67.2 minutes for Washington on average). Women also spend almost twice as much time on their cell phones as compared with men (1.3 hours to 0.7 hours).

Are Calls Really Necessary?

Despite widespread cell phone usage, 88 percent of people surveyed did not find talking on their phone while driving to be 'extremely' or 'very important.' 68 percent of respondents describe the majority of their phone calls as family/friends related with 88 percent of all calls by women compared with 54 percent by men.

In general, drivers under the age of 46 attached greater importance to cell phone use while driving compared with older drivers, with only 19 percent of the 18-34 group and 11 percent of the 35-45 group indicating that cell phone conversations while driving were either 'extremely' or 'very' important.

Misinformed About the Law Specifics

While half of California drivers are aware of the July 1 start date of the law, only 28 percent of Washington driver identified the correct date. Further, close to three out of 10 respondents or 28 percent believe the law is already in effect in Washington, while 33 percent are not sure of the date.

However, drivers in California and Washington are equally misinformed as to the fines involved for using a hands-held phone while driving. Only 13 percent of Californians and 19 percent of Washingtonians were fairly close to their actual fine ($20 and up to $101, respectively).

Attitudes Toward the Law

Although most respondents claim to support the upcoming law, three out of five respondents or 59 percent intend to use their phone about the same amount as they do now. Even fewer respondents at 29 percent, feel the law will have at least a moderate effect on their cell phone use while driving and two out of five or 43 percent say it will

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