Last night I was riding home and was almost run off the street by a woman reading a novel while driving, when I remembered:  Effective July 1, 2008, new laws in California and Washington prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.  Drivers may, however, use a cell phone if the communication is made using hands-free device such as a bluetooth headset or wired headset.  Earlier this year, another Washington law went into effect banning text messaging while driving. 

In Washington, both the cell phone and the text messaging laws are "secondary enforcement " laws, meaning that offenders will only receive a ticket if pulled over for another traffic violation such as speeding or running a stop sign.  California law enforcement, however, is authorized to ticket drivers only for cell phone use.  As far as I know, Oregon does not yet prohibit reading while driving (but it should!)

Want more information?  The California DMV has a great Q&A site on its new law.  Don’t live in Washington or California but want to know what the law is in your state?  Check out this handy chart of state cell phone laws from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. 

Employers should alert their employees who may drive in California or Washington as part of their job duties.  And employers in all states might consider implementing a cell phone policy that restricts the use of cell phones while driving.  Recent years have seen a large upswing in lawsuits against employers who supply their employees with cell phones, if the employee is then in an accident while using the phone.