The Answer

By John Quain  |  Posted 2004-02-19 Print this article Print

The reason, I think, that most people ignore the law is a lack of easy wireless solutions. Corded earpieces with built-in microphones are fine if youre thinking of joining the secret service, but they are awkward and behind the wheel the cord is a nuisance and a danger (have you ever tried to make a quick shift with the cord dangling between your hand and second gear?) Whats needed are wireless hands-free solutions, such as the Logitech Mobile Bluetooth Headset. Ive found it to be surprising comfortable and unobtrusive. There are even some cars that come with built-in Bluetooth speaker phones. Hondas Acura TL models can work with Bluetooth phones, and its an option on Toyotas Prius and Daimlerchryslers Pacifica. The problem is that there arent enough Bluetooth enabled cell phones available. Even the latest Microsoft-backed Motorola smart phone Im currently testing doesnt include Bluetooth support.
Why? As the folks at Cellon, a growing handset design and outsourcing firm explained to me recently, carriers in the U.S. simply will not pay for any features that dont increase voice or data traffic. And since the carriers essentially underwrite the cost of phones here, Bluetooth is a feature they are not willing to pay for. (Cameras, on the other hand, are an excellent way to drive data traffic.)
Now, the Bluetooth SIG will tell you that things are picking up. More products are expected to come out this year that include Bluetooth support. Analysts at Gartner confirm this, reporting that shipments of Bluetooth equipped devices are expected to rise by about 60 percent this year. But thats not enough to make a dent in the distracted driver problem anytime soon. The technology has to be as pervasive and easy to use as the cell phones themselves. The only way that will happen is if larger enterprises insist that their fleets are equipped with the wireless technology and that the phones they hand their employees come with Bluetooth. Yes, I know there are some security issues (look for more on "Bluesnarfing" here next week), but the danger is miniscule compared to the human cost. Sadly, the place where I began wondering about the cell phone problem turned out to be the location for its coda as well. One afternoon last week, 19-year-old Lina Villegas was struck and killed in Queens by a Manhattan bound subway train. According to witnesses, she had climbed down onto the tracks to retrieve her cell phone. With the gallows humor typical of many metropolitan areas, many New Yorkers quipped that it just showed the extent to which people have become addicted to their cell phones, no matter what the danger. Me, I just thought of the woman who almost fell off of the platform in front of me. Check out eWEEK.coms Mobile & Wireless Center at for the latest news, views and analysis on wireless communication. Be sure to add our Mobile & Wireless feed to your RSS newsreader:

John Quain John Quain is the Wireless Center Editor and wireless columnist for Ziff Davis Media. He is also the on-air Computer Consultant for CBS News, appearing regularly on the network's overnight newscast Up to the Minute for over 7 years. In addition, Quain does occasional reports for CBS News The Early Show and has been reporting on technology and related business and entertainment news for over 20 years. Quain has appeared regularly on ABC News, CNN, CNNfn, MSNBC, and CNBC.

In addition to his online and on-air work, Quain currently contributes articles about computers, the Internet, consumer electronics, and technology to PC Magazine, Popular Science, Esquire, and The New York Times. Other publications Quain contributes to include Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Men's Journal, Tech Edge, and Good Housekeeping.

Past positions Quain has held include working as a Contributing Editor at Fast Company magazine for 4 years and at PC Magazine for 9 years. He also wrote a technology column for Brill's Content magazine, was the gadgets columnist at My Generation magazine, was the daily Internet columnist for Time Warner's Pathfinder, and was the computer columnist at The Globe and Mail newspaper.


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