Video: NBC producer and daughter deliberate new phone law

By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan
msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/2/2008 5:18:35 PM ET 2008-07-02T21:18:35

It’s now the law in California and Washington. If you want to drive and talk on a cell phone you must use a hands-free device. A decent headset can easily set you back $60. A really good one runs $100 or more. But you don’t have to pay anywhere near that amount if you know where to shop.

Check out FreeHeadset.org. Matt MacAdams of San Diego started this mom-and-pop nonprofit back in 2003 after he saw a fatal accident caused by a driver on a cell phone. Since then they’ve distributed more than 200,000 units.

The site features headsets for 20 manufacturers. You can get a free corded earbud headset for just the $3.94 shipping charge or Bluetooth models at a discount price. A Motorola H550 headset is $30.94 with shipping. On the Motorola site it’s $48.94 with shipping.

I bought two corded sets and two of the H550 Bluetooth models and had a few friends try them. They all worked just fine and the sound quality was good.

Keep in mind; these are not top-of-the line Bluetooth ear pieces. But the price is right, and you’ll be legal anywhere drivers are required to use hands-free devices.

Before you rush to get one of the Bluetooth models it would be wise to price shop online. You may be able to find similar models on sale for even less than the discount price offered by freeheadset.org.

While I share this money-saving tip (that’s my job), I do not want to encourage anyone to talk while on the road. As I pointed out last week , some experts say it’s no safer to drive and talk on a hands-free device than it is to hold a cell phone.

That column generated a great deal of reader reaction. I want to share some of those comments with you.

A number of readers believe they have a right to be on the phone while driving – and they want big government and liberal reporters (that would be me) to keep their hands off (if you’ll excuse the pun).

“If I want to talk on the phone while driving, then nobody’s going to tell me otherwise,” writes Stanley Hetz.

“What are you going to do next? Limit conversations you have in the car with passengers?” asks Matt Legg.

“Where does this insanity end?” writes Rick Jasper. “Will we ban roadside billboards next for fear someone might turn their head to look at one while driving?”

Jim Rainey thinks we should also ban drinking coffee, eating, putting on makeup, shaving and changing radio stations in the car.

“When everyone discusses cell phones they always seem to forget the other distractions that happen everyday," he notes.

Not me. I see women putting on mascara and men reading while driving 65 miles per hour. That’s stupid and irresponsible, but it has nothing to do with whether talking on the phone is dangerous.

Most of the comments were like this one from Nancy Lesko. “Finally, someone wrote what the rest of us drivers already know. Any cell phone use is terribly distracting.”

A few people felt drivers should be banned from talking on the phone – something that is highly unlikely to ever happen.

“I have been to France and they banned the use of cell phones – hands-free or not – while driving,” writes Phillip Lafolette. “Makes sense to me. I will pull over and make my calls. A bit of inconvenience, but safer.”

Tom Seeber wanted to know if it’s possible to compare the performance of a driver on the phone to a driver who’s intoxicated. “If someone runs into my car with their car and injures my son, I don’t really care if they are a 40-year-old drunk or a 21-year-old chatting away,” he writes.

University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer, a recognized expert on driver distraction, says chatting on the phone is the same impairment as having a .08 alcohol level. That’s legally drunk!

Many people wrote to congratulate me on my vow to stop talking on the phone while on the road.

“I applaud your decision to go ‘conversation-free’ and hope it will help others think about this issue,” writes John Hansen, a deputy district attorney in Sonora, Calif. “Driving a one-ton (or more) missile at high speed on a populated highway should command our attention.”

Leslie Reed had this idea. “If you’re serious about your effort to no longer talk/drive, when you get in your car put your briefcase with phone inside in the back seat. I’ve found that works for me.”

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