As long as the phone doesn't have to be in your hand to text, it's legal

Last Friday, California passed a bill legalizing hands-free texting and e-mailing while driving. California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1536 into law and it will take effect on January 1. The bill adds an amendment to section 23123.5 of the Vehicle Code, adding an exception to the ban on text-based communications while driving in specific instances.
The amended code reads (amended sections bolded):
A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication, unless the electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, or listen to a text-based communication, and it is used in that manner while driving.
(c) For purposes of this section, a person shall not be deemed to be writing, reading, or sending a text-based communication if the person reads, selects, or enters a telephone number or name in an electronic wireless communications device for the purpose of making or receiving a telephone call or if a person otherwise activates or deactivates a feature or function on an electronic wireless communications device.
By signing the bill into law, California became the second state after Idaho to modify laws banning texting and driving to make it legal for drivers with infotainment systems in the vehicle supporting voice to text technology to text while driving.

A representative of California assembly member Jeff Miller also points out that the new bill wasn't intended to apply to phones; rather the bill was intended to allow in-dash navigation and messaging systems to be operated within the law. The spokesperson also noted that voice powered smartphone apps like Siri would fit within the bill's language. Under the law, system such as Ford Sync and OnStar among others will be legal after January 1.
Spokeswoman Jamie Coffee for the California Highway Patrol told Mercury News, "The phone can't be in your hands. Hands-free is the key." That raises a question of legality specifically with smart phone services like Siri since the driver would need to pick up the phone and touch the screen to activate the hands-free service. Coffee did note, "The most important thing to do when you're driving is to drive. It does take your attention away, whether it's hands free or not."

Sources: MSNBC, Mercury News

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