Hands on the Wheel

With plenty of advance notice, including signs on the major highways of the state, New Hampshire’s hands-free law went into effect July 1. That advance notice gave drivers time to figure out how to hook up their vehicle Bluetooth or to buy a device for older cars that would enable hands-free use of cell phones and other devices.

But when a friend in another state heard about the hands free law, his immediate response was, “I thought New Hampshire was the ‘Live Free or Die’ state.”

That’s a point that gives us pause, as the state that doesn’t require seatbelts for persons over age 18, or helmets for motorcycle riders, is suddenly falling into a “nanny” frame of mind. But sometimes common sense needs to trump the state motto.

The law’s proponents say sending or receiving a text distracts the driver for almost 5 seconds. They note that at 50 miles per hour, a vehicle travels longer than the length of a football field during that 5 seconds.

That’s scary. And it too should give us pause.

Just as wearing a helmet in a motorcycle crash makes it more likely the person will survive – and without serious brain damage – not using a phone or texting while driving is likely to save lives as well. And whatever makes the highways safer in New Hampshire – in a state where the speed limit seems to be something to be ignored rather than followed – is better for all of us.

And what’s the worst thing that could happen? The phone call or the text waits. But you stand a far better chance of arriving safely at your destination, where you can take care of the message while safely parked.

We expect there to be plenty of scoff-laws on this one, although the stiff fines should teach a lesson quickly.

For a quick reminder, the law means:

• No use of hand-held electronic devices capable of providing voice or data communication while driving or temporarily halted in traffic for a stop sign or traffic signal or other momentary delays. This includes cell phones, GPS, tablets, iPods and iPads.

• Bluetooth or other hands-free electronic devices are allowed.

• Emergency calls to 911 or other public safety agencies are allowed.

• One hand non-cellular two-way radio use is allowed.

• Teen drivers under 18 are not allowed to use any electronic devices (hand-held or not) except to report an emergency.

Fines start at $100.

And while you’re readying your Bluetooth, it wouldn’t hurt to fasten your seatbelt as well.