You can’t talk on your cell phone in California—home of the wildly popular game “Bluetooth? Or crazy?“—while you’re driving, but you can send text messages. Wait, really? But before you get your pants in a huff, there’s a workaround: California will only allow hands-free, voice-to-text dictation for text messages. Your fingers, and your eyeballs, never leave the attention of the road.
Governor Jerry Brown signed this oddly specific caveat into California’s stringent anti-cell phone law, which will go into effect on January 1 of next year. If you’re driving in California, you can use your Bluetooth headset to dictate a text message, or an in-car system such as Honda’s text-messaging system on the 2012 CR-V, and the upcoming Accord. You can also listen to text messages if you receive them and your phone has the capability, which must make for some great AutoCorrect hilarity.
“I can relate to the frustration of many Californians,” said Assemblyman Jeff Miller, who authored the bill, ”who were unable to communicate with friends, family and business partners while driving because it is currently against the law to operate text-based functions while driving.”
But in an example of bone-headed lack of foresight, there’s one problem: Siri, the magical assistant on the popular Apple iPhone 4S, has the ability to turn speech into text messages, but you have to press a button to turn it on first. And if you touch your phone while you’re driving, that’s against the law. So here’s your Catch-22, iPhone users: you can send a text message with your voice to comply with the law, but pressing the button to do it is illegal in the first place.
In fact, most smartphones work like that. To follow the letter of the law to its literal extent, pressing a solitary button on a phone to respond to a text message is illegal, but no less dangerous than changing a radio station or zooming out on a nav system.
If you want to peruse the full and ambiguous text of the bill, you can do so here.
As anti-cell phone laws become popular, all car companies today offer some sort of connection for hands-free operation, and Bluetooth at a near minimum. So expect to see this legislature spread across the country—and don’t be surprised if millions of smartphone drivers start to plead their cases at traffic court.