Voice-Texting Could Be Banned in California - Again

A legislator wants to prohibit drivers from using devices that allow hands-free texting

By Melissa Pamer
|  Friday, Feb 15, 2013  |  Updated 2:14 PM PDT
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A California assemblyman is working to once again make it illegal to use a hands-free, voice-activated device to text while driving. He's introduced a bill to ban the practice just months after legislators approved a law that allows it. Kathy Vara reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2013.

Kathy Vara, Fabian Rodriguez

A California assemblyman is working to once again make it illegal to use a hands-free, voice-activated device to text while driving. He's introduced a bill to ban the practice just months after legislators approved a law that allows it. Kathy Vara reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2013.

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Did you think could text using a hands-free device, California drivers? That liberty may be short-lived if a proposed new law is approved.

Less than two months after a state law went into effect allowing motorists to compose text messages and emails by voice while on the road, a state legislator has proposed a bill to ban the practice.

So-called "voice-texting" allows users of some mobile devices to write text messages and emails by speaking aloud – without using their hands.

A law that went into effect Jan. 1 crafted an exception to the state's 2009 ban on texting-while-driving that allowed motorists to write messages with voice-operated technology of cell phones.

Now a bill introduced this week by Northern California Assemblyman Jim Frazier would reverse that Jan. 1 change.

"Who needs to do texting of any kind while driving?" Frazier said in a press release Wednesday, a day after he introduced Assembly Bill 313. "Is a text message really worth the risk of injuring or killing someone?"

Frazier cited a researcher's statements that there's little difference in the danger from communication via voice or text when driving, saying they both create "cognitive distraction that causes 'inattention blindness.'"

Last year, the legislature approved and Gov. Jerry Brown in July signed into law AB 1536, authored by Assemblyman Jeff Miller of Corona. The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, crafted an exemption the state's texting ban that allowed drivers to use devices designed to allow "voice-operated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, or listen to a text-based communication."

Miller's office told NBC News last year that the bill was written to apply to in-dash navigation and messaging systems but that the language had been left open to apply to other devices. (Miller ran unsuccessfully for state senate last fall.)

The National Safety Council in December called for that law's repeal last December, after learning that the law would soon go into effect.

"Safe driving requires a driver’s full attention -- hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and mind on the task of driving," said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the council, at the time. "There is no research or evidence that indicates voice-activated technologies eliminate or even reduce the distraction to the drivers’ mind. Unless such research becomes available, texting laws, such as California’s, should not be weakened by legalizing the use of voice-to-text technologies."

Frazier cited the road safety organization's support in his press release Wednesay.

Frazier's 11th Assembly District includes Vacaville, Fairfield and other areas between Sacramento and suburbs east of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Assembly Bill 313, which would amend the state vehicle code, was read for the first time Tuesday, and may be heard in committee on March 15.

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