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Tess Vigeland: If you’re hearing us in California, put down your phone and listen up. As of July 1, you can no longer hold your cell phone and drive at the same time.
The land of the car-crazed is finally joining the long list of states with hands-free cell phone laws and as KQED’s Rob Schmitz reports, that’s giving the headset trade something to talk about.
Rob Schmitz: California Highway Patrol officer Miguel Luevano has seen it all on the L.A.’s freeways.
Miguel Luevano: Everything from people eating, applying makeup, shaving, even having sex in the car while driving.
In comparison, holding a cell phone to your ear may seem tame. But under a new law, California residents who drive and dial could be fined up to $76.
With 23 million drivers, that could mean a lot of dough for state coffers. In the first three years of New York’s hands-free law, the state pulled in around $27 million in fines.
[Phone]: Say a command.
Lee D’Orlando: Call office.
[Phone]: Did you say “Call office?”
Lee D’Orlando tests the clarity of a Bluetooth speaker that attaches to your car’s visor. He sells them at E Wireless Communications in Los Angeles.
Eddie: Good morning. Thank you for calling E Wireless.
D’Orlando: Yeah, I’m doing a phone check Eddie.
Eddie: OK, Lee. Hear you loud and clear.
D’Orlando says he’s working overtime to keep up with customer demand.
D’Orlando: In the past month, I’d say our hands-free Bluetooth equipment has probably quadrupled.
It’s the same story for Santa Cruz-based Plantronics, one of the nation’s top headset manufacturers, says spokesman Dan Race.
Dan Race: The sales trend is upticking right now and we think it will continue throughout July.
Race says consumers are waiting until the last minute to buy the devices. Some people are ordering them for free from websites like freeheadset.org.
But not Joon Millum. He’s in downtown L.A. shopping for a new phone that he plans to hold brazenly to his ear while driving.
Joon Millum: I remember I’ve swerved probably into the other lanes, but I always got back into my lane. I think it’s still dangerous, but it doesn’t matter to me. I’m still talking on the phone.
Millum says most of the time he isn’t a danger to anyone. That’s because he’s crawling along in L.A. traffic.
In Los Angeles, I’m Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.
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