Cathy Janek: Hands-free devices in demand with new law

Did you seem to have more minutes remaining on your cellphone bill this January? Have you found your cellphone ringing a lot less in the new year? It could be because your phone pals’ vehicles, especially those friends who love to talk while driving, might not be equipped with hands-free devices.

As of Jan. 1, Illinois became one of 12 states to outlaw the use of hand-held phone devices while driving to reduce the number of distracted-driving accidents. Motorists older than 18 are still allowed to talk while driving in their cars, although they must do so without holding a phone to their ear.

Many newer cars come equipped with integrated systems that easily pair to phones. Older vehicle owners might need a visit to an auto repair technician or invest in some DIY time to become compliant with the law — if they want to talk on their phones while driving.

Bluetooth devices are legal as long as they don’t cover both ears. The cost to adapt your phone could range from less than $100 for a Bluetooth device that attaches to your ear or to a speaker that mounts on your dashboard and up to $1,000 for a fully integrated system that includes navigation.

The money spent on a basic device might be worth it, since the fine for violating the law is $75 for the first violation, increasing by $25 for each subsequent violation. In addition, three moving violations within a year could result in suspension of a motorist’s license.

Beginning about two weeks before Christmas, the Aurora/Naperville Best Buy began to see a “huge increase” in the purchase of hands-free equipment, said Rebecca Robledo, Best Buy’s mobile services manager.

“Now we are seeing people come in who have gotten a fine,” she added.

She said the store’s best seller is the Platronics Voyager.

“It gives you the best sound in your car regardless of whether your windows are up in the winter or down in the summer,” she added.

The Motorola Boom is another good option, she added.

Speaker options that can pair a cellphone with a vehicle’s speakers include the Motorola Roadster Pro and Jabra Drive, Robledo said.

“For people who have smaller ears or would prefer not to have something in their ear, the speakers tend to be a better option,” she added.

Best Buy does offer customers assistance to pair a device to their mobile phone. Best Buy’s Autotech Geek Squad sells units that can be fully integrated into vehicles, she said.

Toyota of Naperville also has seen an increased demand for hands-free equipment since Jan. 1, according to Eren Gonzalez, aftermarket consultant with Toyota of Naperville.

The greatest interest, she noted, is coming for vehicles built between 2004 to 2006 when hands-free integration wasn’t standard. Toyota’s products, which generally cost more, are integrated with the car’s stereo and offer additional features such as music streaming and voice recognition.

The most popular option is a Converse Handsfree system, which integrates into a vehicle, Gonzalez said.

“Another option is the Parrot MKI 9200, which includes a mounted color display panel.”

Safety experts still question whether the new measures will be enough to curtail distracted-driving accidents. For some drivers who are seeking a chance to disconnect from our over-connected world, the new law might be a good excuse to grab a little solitude.