By Maria O’Connell

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, three states (Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York) and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that prohibit the use of handheld cell phones while operating a vehicle. California and Washington will join this list soon, effective July of 2008. For all of these states except Washington, the law falls under the category of primary enforcement–this means that an officer may ticket a driver for using a handheld cell phone even without the occurrence of another traffic offense.

Undoubtedly, other states will soon follow suit, if the federal government does not beat them to it. As new laws close the communication channels, Bluetooth technology has found uniquely creative ways to reopen them. The time has come for the world to go hands-free.

A vast variety of Bluetooth options for hands-free driving are available – most have already been advertized enough to raise awareness. But I’d never tested the technology until I tried out a fairly new Bluetooth option that channels your phone conversation through your car’s speakers.

The Motorola T505, released in October of 2007, is a portable Bluetooth option that clips to your car visor, or your friend’s car visor if you so choose. The built-in digital FM transmitter allows you to stream not only phone calls, but also music from your MP3 player through your car stereo. The music will automatically pause when you have an incoming call. The device is slightly bigger than a garage door opener, comes with a car charger, and has a longer battery life than your phone.

Just last night, I got to experience the T505 first-hand. It took just five minutes to match the device to the phone, choose a compatible radio station, and make the first call. The sound quality was superb; talking at a normal volume, I could clearly understand and be understood.

Many argue that the problem with cell phones and driving does not lie in the difference between handheld or hands-free talk, but in the conversation itself. While I know that phone conversations in a car can be distracting, I don’t believe that having a conversation via a Bluetooth device is any different than having a conversation with your passenger – unless our governments are ready to ban all conversation within a moving vehicle, I don’t think that they can reasonably ban hands-free cell phone conversations in an automobile.

The issue is safety. Maybe you talk on your handheld cell phone frequently and have never been in an accident. Therefore, you feel invincible and you don’t want to spend the $20-$100 on a hands-free option. But the reality is, handheld cell phone talking while driving is a huge distraction. Hands-free talking is safer. There are plenty of great choices; I only discussed one of them.

More and more state governments are catching the waves of safer driving by passing new legislation. Your state could be the next. Be proactive.  Invest in a hands-free option before you are legally forced to do so, or before you do get in an accident.

(Motorola T505: