When driving in California, motorhomers had better think twice before using their cellular phones, unless it’s for emergency purposes or they’re using a hands-free headset.
Starting July 1, 2008, California law will prohibit all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while driving, even if they reside in another state where the practice is allowed.
Under the new law, only motorists over 18 may use a hands-free device. Drivers under 18 may not use a wireless phone or a hands-free device.
The new laws, which apply only to the person driving the vehicle, carry fines of $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent infractions. Convictions will appear on the violator’s driving record but will not result in a point on the driver’s license.
Exceptions will be granted to motorists making 911 calls and emergency response personnel; (until July 1, 2011) to drivers of commercial vehicles who use wireless push-to-talk phones; and motorists operating a vehicle on private property.
Using a handheld wireless telephone while driving is considered a primary violation, meaning law enforcement officers can stop drivers solely for this infraction.
Advocates and critics
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the wireless phone usage legislation, Senate Bill 1613, on September 15, 2006.
Supporters of the bill said cell phone use is a distraction and can affect driving. They cited data from the California Highway Patrol that indicated cell phones were the leading cause of distracted driving accidents, and that hands-free technology substantially reduced the number of crashes.
Opponents claimed there are many other causes of inattentive driving, such as eating, smoking, drowsiness, and adjusting the radio station or CD player. They criticized the ban on using handheld mobile phones for failing to distinguish between inexperienced young drivers and experienced adult drivers.
What about other states?
No federal law bans drivers from using wireless phones while driving, but some states and local jurisdictions have taken action. For example, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C., have enacted statewide bans similar to California’s.
States can enact cell phone laws as primary or secondary. Under secondary laws, an officer must have some other reason to stop a vehicle before citing a driver for using a cell phone. Laws without this restriction, as in California, are called primary.
The use of all cellular phones while driving a school bus is prohibited in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
Is Your RV TV Ready For The Digital Transition?
Are the analog televisions in your motorhome ready for the digital transition?
After February 17, 2009, all television stations must stop broadcasting in analog format and instead transmit their signals exclusively over the digital spectrum. Federal law requires it.
All televisions that receive over-the-air programming through an antenna will need to be plugged into a digital-to-analog converter box to receive digital broadcasts. If you use the V-shaped rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna for TV reception, you probably need a converter.
According to government figures, nearly 20 million American homes still use antennas on their roofs or atop their TV sets.
The switch to 100 percent digital broadcasting is expected to free the airwaves for public safety agencies such as police and fire departments. And if you hook up a converter box to your analog set, you should get better picture clarity, and additional local channels.
Converter boxes cost from $50 to $75. On January 1, 2008, the federal government began offering coupons for $40 off eligible converters. The coupons are available while supplies last or until the $1.5 billion earmarked for the coupon program runs out, so you might want to submit your request now.
Do you need a converter?
Televisions connected to cable, satellite, or other pay TV services do not require converters. Satellite TV broadcasts and all modern satellite TV antennas already use digital technology. So if you have satellite television in your motorhome, the change should not affect you. But if you have questions, call your provider.
TVs equipped with digital tuners do not need converters, either. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the government agency responsible for the converter box program, TVs purchased five or more years ago probably do not include a digital tuner. So, older sets not connected to cable or satellite are good candidates for a converter.
To determine whether your TV set has a digital tuner built in, consult the owners manual, or check the manufacturer’s Web site. On your TV set, look for an input connection labeled “digital input” or “ATSC” (for Advanced Television Systems Committee, which sets standards for digital television).
So, here are your options to prepare for the digital transition before February 18, 2009:
Keep your TV and buy a converter, which hooks up to your conventional analog TV set and allows it to receive digital broadcasts. After you install the converter, you will still need to use an antenna to receive over-the-air programming.
Connect your television to cable, satellite, or another pay service.
Buy a digital television, making sure it has a built-in digital tuner.
A short quiz at the Digital Television transition Web site, http://www.dtv.gov/, can help you determine whether the converter box is the best option for you.
The coupon program
The Converter Box Coupon Program ensures that uninterrupted access to free, over-the-air television does not pose a financial hardship for viewers. U.S. households may request up to two coupons, worth $40 each, that can be applied to the purchase of a converter box. Coupons expire 90 days after issuance.
To request coupons, call (888) 388-2009, the 24-hour Coupon Program hotline. Or, visit http://www.dtv2009.gov/. From this page you can apply for a coupon online or download a coupon application. If you download a form, complete it and mail it to P.O. Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000. Or, fax the application to (877) 388-4632. The coupons resemble gift cards widely used in the retail industry, but they can be used only for the purchase of eligible converter boxes.
Where to buy converter boxes
You may want to call ahead to make sure coupon-eligible converter boxes are available from a particular store at the time you plan to shop. Converter boxes are available from retailers including Wal-Mart, Circuit City, RadioShack, and Best Buy. As of late March, Wal-Mart was offering a Magnavox converter for $49.87, in-store purchase only. It received mostly favorable online reviews.
Basic converter boxes come with a digital tuner, a remote control, and a cable for connecting the converter to an analog TV. Typical features of the converter include inputs for a VHF/UHF antenna; outputs for video and audio; a built-in, onscreen electronic program guide (EPG); and support for closed captioning.
Converter boxes with enhanced features, such as one with a DVD recorder, are not certified for the coupon program. Participating retailers can tell you whether a particular model they stock is eligible.
Note: While digital-to-analog converter boxes may improve picture and sound quality, analog televisions cannot display high-definition resolution. For high-definition television, you need one of the newer TV sets rated for high-definition resolution.
For more information about the coupon program or the transition to digital television, call (888) 388-2009. Or, visit http://www.dtv2009.gov/ or www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon.
P.O. Box or PMB address note
If you use a P.O. box or PMB mailing address, please note that you cannot order a coupon online or use the application form available on the Web site. The coupon program’s Web-based application will automatically generate a denial for addresses entered as a P.O. box or a PMB address. The online application also will generate a denial for business addresses.
Instead, you must call the TV Converter Box Coupon Program 24-hour hotline, (888) 388-2009, to file a request. When applying, you will receive a reference number from the consumer support representative. Hold on to that number, because P.O. box and PMB addresses are subject to verification before coupons are mailed, and the reference number may be needed during the verification process. The reference number also is needed for follow-up communication.
When calling the 24-hour hotline, follow these prompts to speak to a consumer support representative:
1. Press 1 to hear the prompt explanations in “English.”
2. Press 4 for “Everything Else.”
3. Press 2 for “All Others.”
4. Press 0 to “Speak To A Representative.”
Upon reaching a representative, explain that you are traveling in your motorhome and are using a P.O. box or PMB to receive your mail.
Bill Would Limit Fees On Public Lands
It may cost less to enter America’s public lands, except for national parks, if a bill introduced this past December makes its way through the U.S. Congress without considerable overhaul.
As of mid-April, no major action had been taken on S2438, the Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act, which was introduced December 10, 2007. But if approved, the bill would repeal the Federal Lands Recreation Act and restore free public access to federal public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation.
S2438 would allow the National Park Service to continue charging entrance fees, with a cap of $25 per vehicle. User fees for developed campgrounds and expanded amenities on public lands still would be applicable.
The bill also would reinstate the National Parks and Golden Eagle annual passes. The National Parks Pass cost $50 and was good for unlimited admission at all U.S. national parks that charged entrance fees. For an additional $15, a Golden Eagle hologram could be purchased and affixed to a National Parks Pass to cover entrance fees at national parks and other public land agencies.
The America the Beautiful “” National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass was introduced in January 2007, replacing the Golden Eagle and National Parks passes. It costs $80 per year and allows entry into all federal areas, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and more. The pass applies to locations that currently have entrance or standard amenity fees.
S2438 was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on December 10.
To follow the bill’s progress, visit the Library of Congress Web site, http://thomas.loc.gov/ and search for S2438.