California bans cellphones for teenage drivers

Put down your BlackBerrys, 16- and 17-year-olds, and just pay attention to the road.

Published September 14, 2007 7:40PM (EDT)

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill on Thursday that prohibits the state's minors from using cellphones and other mobile devices while driving (whether or not the youngsters use a hands-free headset). The law -- which goes into effect in July -- won't let cops stop drivers simply for violating the mobile ban, but if an officer pulls over a 16- or 17-year-old for something else, the driver would face a fine for using a cell ($20 for the first offense, $50 for each additional). The ban says nothing about adult drivers -- if you're 18 or older in California, you can do whatever you like in your car.

The kids aren't all right with the new law. "That's insane -- it's madness," 13-year-old Cameron Young tells the San Francisco Chronicle. "No technology? I'm speechless. Not cool, not cool at all." To underline her disgust, Young then redlined her Mini Cooper and Twittered a lamentation -- titled "OMG!! :(" -- on her Sidekick. (Not really.)

To be fair, there is some irony in having the fellow who took part in the worst don't-try-this-at-home example of teenage driving ever -- see "T2" chase scene above, in which a wet-behind-the-ears Eddie Furlong, on a scooter, is chased by a semi, with Arnie saving the day by wielding a shotgun from his speeding motorcycle -- lecturing to young people about how they're "easily distracted" behind the wheel.

But the governor's right. Although studies show that everyone's driving suffers when you're talking on the phone, it's also true that teenage drivers aren't very good behind the wheel to begin with.

As researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported earlier this year in the Journal of Safety Research, crash rates are highest for people who've just gotten their licenses. It's easy to see why: "Driving is like other complex, skilled behaviors in which subtle improvements in perception and judgment develop gradually over a period of years," the researchers pointed out.

Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia have passed teen cell bans like California's.

But if the poll on the Chronicle's Web site is accurate -- which, since it's on the Web, it's likely not -- many people feel the new rules don't go far enough. Two percent of respondents oppose the new law for singling out teenagers, while 5 percent say it'll make the road safer. But 93 percent chose a third option: Expand the law to everybody, "including legislators."

Guv signs law banning minors from using cellphones while driving [San Francisco Chronicle]

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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