Tech Enthusiast No-hands car phones: They're the law (or soon will be).
(MONEY Magazine) – Look, no handhelds! I think New York State's recent ban on the use of handheld phones by drivers is a good thing. Contrary to some of the law's critics, I believe that using a phone is more distracting than fiddling with, say, a cassette or CD player. And while I can change a CD at a traffic stop, telephone conversations tend to go on for miles. In any case, much of the country seems to agree with me: Some 40 states are currently considering a ban similar to New York's.
It's no surprise then that a recent report by Polk Auto found hands-free phones to be the most sought-after new car feature, far outpacing DVD players and satellite navigation systems. Indeed, most automakers already offer them as options on high-end cars or will soon do so. But it's easy to get hands-free calling in your current vehicle. Below are the various options, from the simplest and least expensive to more elaborate versions that tend to require professional installation.
First, though, my sermon: You're probably best off not using a phone behind the wheel at all, handheld or not. But if you must, take some precautions: Get to know your phone's features (the less time you spend toying with it, the better); place calls when not moving or, at least, not pulling into traffic; tell the person you're speaking to that you are driving, so you won't hesitate to hang up abruptly if necessary; and avoid emotionally charged conversations. Now that I've unburdened my soul, let's get to the gadgets.
Headset or ear buds. The easiest way to keep both hands on the wheel while talking is simply to run a wire from your phone to your ear. Ear buds are a popular and inexpensive choice, but many people are tempted to hold the small microphone to their mouths, which defeats the purpose--and anyway, those ear buds never stay in my ear. I suggest an all-in-one earpiece-and-mike headset, like the one telephone operators wear. A fine choice is the Plantronics M145, which sells for $40 at www.bestbuy.com.
The problem is that you'll still need to fumble for your phone (and headset) when it rings. Plus, many states forbid wearing headphones or ear pieces while driving, even if only one ear is covered. (For a list of those states, go to www.money.com/techenthusiast/headsets.)
Do-it-yourself cradles. Safer and more convenient are cradles that hold your phone when you're in the car and that essentially turn it into a speakerphone. The least expensive models, which cost in the neighborhood of $60, plug into a cigarette lighter. If your lighter is well-situated, setup takes all of a few seconds. If not, you may not be able to use this option at all. These cradles typically have a speaker and microphone built into the unit, but some have adapters that fit into a cassette player so that the sound comes from your stereo speakers.
Built-in cradles. Sturdier and more attractive are units designed to be permanently attached to your dash or center console. They usually come with separate speaker and microphone, and each piece needs to be mounted individually. You can install everything yourself, but the process usually involves drilling holes inside your car. Plus, while you can leave the wires that run to the microphone, speaker and power source exposed, most people prefer to have a professional run them behind the dash. These units cost about $200; professional installation generally adds another $200 or so. For models that work with your phone, check www.1800mobiles.com.