Commentary: Sanity in cell-phone laws would be nice

By now you've seen the signs on the freeway, read the headlines in the paper or heard by word of mouth – text messaging while driving is illegal in California.

It has been folded into that neat little no-holding-a-cell-phone-to-your-ear-while-driving law that went into effect earlier this year. And rightly so.

Nobody – not even the most hardcore texter, not even the "IDK My BFF Jill" kid from the AT&T commercial – can argue that text messaging while driving is safe and should be encouraged.

But there is something to argue when it comes to the overall thinking of our state's lawmakers on this issue.

Mainly: Are we legislating with the times or five years behind them?

When the hands-free law went into effect in July, the immediate question was "Well, what about texting? Isn't that more dangerous than talking on the phone?"

The answer: "Yes." So the state acted quickly.

Now my question is this: So I can't write or read text messages, but what about using Twitter? What about updating my Facebook status? What about checking football scores on ESPN.com?

We're long past the time when the cell phone had two functions – making calls and sending text messages. Now cell phones can just be used for about anything.

Mine is a web-surfing device, MP3 player, GPS, portable gaming device ... oh, and it's good for talking and texting too. Not that I'm endorsing all these other activities, but on the scale of unsafe driving, I'd say surfing the Net isn't any more dangerous than sending a text message. But one is explicitly illegal and the other is one step ahead of the law.

All of this is to say that regulating cell phone use on the road has turned into quite the slippery slope.

You might say "Well, using cell phones while driving is a bad idea – period."

But let's say I'm using my phone as a GPS, getting turn-by-turn directions. How is an officer of law supposed to tell the difference?

Should using a GPS be illegal? I don't think so.

How do you even know when someone's sending a text message? Sure, if I'm holding my phone in front of my face and poking the letters one by one, that might be obvious to an officer.

Let's be real, though, there are a lot of trained texters out there who can send a text message without looking at their screen. They're doing it at school, right?

So here we are, making cell-phone laws like we're learning the alphabet. First comes A, next is B, then C.

We either need a law that limits cell phone use while driving, or doesn't. Making a new rule every six months is just silly.

But since Sacramento can't seem to pass a budget, we can't be surprised.

I'll just look forward to six months from now when there's a new law against surfing the 'Net while driving – and two years from now when the folks up in Sacramento figure out what Twitter is.

By then, of course, my phone will probably be able to drive my car for me.