Calif. bans text-and-drive. Crazy people sad?

A new law makes obviously dangerous behavior illegal. The state already has a law banning cell phone calls without a headset while driving, but this closes a loophole in that law.

Common sense has prevailed in the Golden State. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday signed a law banning texting or reading text messages while driving. The law takes effect on January 1.

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We say common sense because, well, texting while driving is about as sane as shooting wolves from airplanes is sporting. Nonetheless, it seems that Schwarzenegger, who successfully pretended to be firing and reloading a shotgun while driving a big motorcycle in the second Terminator film (and I'm pretty sure that was him in those shots, not the stuntman who jumped into the Los Angeles River basin), shares an enthusiasm for preventing people from doing very silly things.

The new law may seem a bit redundant to one that took effect in July that banned holding a cell phone while driving . Using headsets and the like is still OK, of course. But we've had a good argument going in our office here since the Governator signed the texting measure: how, exactly, could people have been legally, if foolishly, texting while driving if it's already illegal to hold a cell phone while driving?

Blame it on a loophole big enough for the good governor to drive a Harley through. The initial law proscribed holding that cell phone up to your ear in order to make or take a call. It didn't block setting the phone on the passenger's seat or on the dashboard and pecking away while you drive (this, of course, is where that whole common-sense thing comes into play again).

Declan McCullagh, our in-house legal guru and general ridiculer of flawed legislation, describes the initial cell phone law like this:

It's riddled with loopholes. It doesn't apply to dialing a phone number (often the most distracting part). It doesn't apply to checking your e-mail while driving. It doesn't apply to browsing the Web. It doesn't apply to playing a handheld video game. It doesn't apply to writing a novel. It applies only to the "telephone" features of your handheld gadget. Basically, it's kind of ridiculous.

So there you go. Let's hope that someone bans playing video games while driving before there's a major Spore-related pileup on Highway 101.

 

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