The big day has now passed for California drivers and cellphones are effectively banned on the road. At least not without a hands-free device...which Californians will inevitably forget to charge or lose. Other states have this law, but California is the driving-while-talking state. California is regularly ranked the worst for traffic congestion, and its 60 million residents spend more time in traffic not driving than just about anybody else. It's a big deal, but also, this law is a joke: The fine is only $20. The dumbest thing, however, is that there is a laundry list of far more distracting gadget and non-gadget tasks that are still perfectly legal behind the wheel of a car:
California drivers 18 and older must use hands-free devices when talking on cellphones beginning July 1. Drivers under 18 cannot use cellphones or text-message.
FOR DRIVERS 18 AND OLDER: Voice commands count as going hands-free for drivers 18 or older. BlackBerrys, GPS systems, etc., are OK to use.
FOR DRIVERS YOUNGER THAN 18: Cellphones are banned for these drivers. They also cannot text- message or use laptops.
These kinds of laws are specifically about phones rather than distractions, and it really shows in the language. Cells are banned, but BlackBerries are fine? Really? The intention of banning phones is reasonable and the law will likely benefit the state as a whole, but it could use some fleshing out. Primarily, it doesn't give the police the discretionary power they would need to properly deal with more types of distracted drivers, many of whom are even more dangerous than your average talker.
So if you're down about the new rules and/or understand the world much like an 8-year-old boy might, here are some alternatives that are totally (probably) more acceptable in the eyes of the law than dialing and driving:
USE A LAPTOP
If you're under 18 it looks like you might be out of luck here. If you're a legal adult though, the coast is apparently clear. Invest in EVDO or one of those new 3G-equipped Chryslers and browse the net, fire up your favorite racing game or install Skype and prank call the developing world. If you've got big hands you can even hold it like a cellphone for bonus points.
USE A BANANA
If your incessant phone usage is a function of some kind of strange cranial fixation, hold something else against your ear. Talk into a banana, or a boomerang. Or a kitten. All of these things offer at least the tactile satisfaction of your average handset, and each has an added benefit (snacking, hunting and affection, respectively).
DEAL WITH YOUR HYGIENE
The sights of a man struggling with an electric shaver or a woman gracelessly applying lipstick are common enough already, so take that concept as far as you want. It's easy to forget about your toenails, for example. You should really take care of them, otherwise you might trip and have an accident.
BUY A KINDLE
Impress the cute driver next to you with your brain, via your Amazon e-book reading device. For hands-free use just strap it to your wheel, or windshield. You can peruse your favorite quarterly, dig into some obnoxious book by Ron Paul about why making cellphones (or anything) illegal is totally illegal or even download every statute of California law, just to have around.
MAKE A SANDWICH
If you're bored, hungry or both, why not just make yourself a hoagie on your dashboard? You'll find that getting a decent sandwich together there is pretty easy in spite of (or maybe because of) all the ArmorAll residue. Extra kudos if you can convert your Foreman grill to DC power without popping a fuse. Also, extra sandwiches.
USE A GPS DEVICE
Mio's upcoming Moov 380 GPS device has calling and texting built right in, but it's A-OK under the new law. If you've got a Dash system, have a ball drawing your own customized routes. Or just buy a map. Make sure to unfold it all the way so it blocks your windshield.
WRITE A NOVEL
Can be combined with the laptop option, but spiral notebooks and legal pads work fine too. You'll regret not doing it for the rest of your life, and self-publishing is cake nowadays. With your new mobile data connect, you could even print on demand while you, say, merge onto the freeway.
TAKE A SNAPSHOT
When the world is zipping by at 45mph it's easy to miss things. With the camera tech that's available today, there's really no reason for that. A Casio EX-F1 will never let you miss a moment, with helpful features like pre-recording for still shots and slow-motion video up to 1200fps. The faster you go, the cooler the video.
While the first two stages of producing a child are almost definitely not allowed during driving, there's no law about bringing birthed kids in your car. The more the merrier. Give them some toys, preferably loose and with plenty potential as projectiles. You don't want to be one of those distant, uncool parents, you want to interact with your offspring. It'll be fun because kids are wacky, but also because the stakes are much higher. Don't screw up!
Again, I'm no lawyer, but I'd bet much of the crazier distractions are probably covered under generic distracted driving laws in many states. But the point remains that there are far more distracting things you can do than talk on the phone while driving, like trying to type on a touchscreen iPhone keyboard while driving stick, and so this law is woefully out of date for Gizmodo readers in particular. So, technophiles, how will you pass the time in the driver's seat now?