On December 1, 2008 I blogged about my doctoral dreams and how I plan to apply for programs starting on December 1, 2009 — my “PhD-Day.” I also featured photos and a video of a graffiti-laden delivery truck on which the letters “P-H-D” are spray painted on the roll-top door. I have decided to call this truck the “PhD-Mobile” (like “Batmobile” but for academics).

I have intermittently encountered the “PhD-Mobile” and interpret it as a sign that pursuing a doctorate is the right path for me. I started seeing this truck in March 2008 when I was driving to and from the DeVry Center in Bakersfield, CA where I have been an adjunct professor since October 2007.

I am sure these letters are just some tagger’s initials, but to me they represents my dream of earning a PhD by studying the impact of social media on the management and marketing of knowledge (possibly with a focus in the health care industry).

With regard to that process, I am now evaluating disciplines in which to conduct my research. The leading contender is Communication, although Marketing and Information Science remain possibilities. You can track my progress in my PhD-Day Diary.

After a long period during which I did not see the “PhD-Mobile” I saw it again during the morning of February 24, 2009! I happened upon it while driving on Interstate 5 North (near Pyramid Lake) from my home in Santa Clarita, CA to DeVry University (as has been the case in the past).

Here’s a video of the truck (in slow motion and intentionally without sound):

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A photo of the same truck follows. Note that the truck was driving so slowly in order to get this picture (after initially getting the video, above) I had to exit Interstate 5 at Pyramid Lake, wait for approximately five minutes and then, once I saw the truck pass by, re-enter the freeway.

PhDMV Take Two?

The timing of the sighting was auspicious as it was two days after my birthday and right after I had been evaluating my options. I had also taken a practice GRE on Sunday (my actual birthday) so my mind was very pre-occupied with thoughts related to the doctorate.

I guess this was a reminder that I am headed in the right direction!

Earlier this month, while driving home on Interstate 5 south from DeVry University in Bakersfield, I received an  unexpected call on my cell phone from a woman named Tina Sarkissian, a segment producer for a new show called “Pranked” that will soon be airing on MTV.

She asked if I was “Matt Gilbert” and when I confirmed my identity she then inquired if I was involved with the creation of the following YouTube video called “Gamer Head Tape Prank“:

She is looking for the creator of the video because MTV wants to license it for inclusion on the show — an interesting example of the trend by which “old media” is sourcing material from “new media.”

By some kind of voodoo — or maybe it was just Lexis-Nexis — she determined “Matt Gilbert” either created the video (using the pseudonym “GoogTube“) or he was somehow involved with the production of the tape.

Unfortunately, she has been unable to get in touch with him so she was calling every number she could find attached to anyone named “Matt Gilbert.”

My name and phone number was on her “hit list” of Matt Gilberts (there are 453 of us in the United States, according to HowManyofMe.com). As much as I wanted to claim credit for the video, I had nothing to do with it.

However, considering my interest in social media, and the fact that I am a member of the “Matt Gilbert” club, I offered to spread the word and, hopefully, help her find the right guy.

So, if you are “the” Matt Gilbert responsible for the above video — or know the one who is — please contact Tina Sarkissian at “tina [at] cherisundae [dot] com” or via Cheri Sundae Productions at (323) 785-7300.

Today I begin teaching a buying behavior course at UC Santa Barbara Extension for the second time. The class runs for five consecutive Saturdays and concludes February 14, 2009 (Valentine’s Day — a “holiday” rich in strange and often irrational buying behaviors!).

I taught the course last year for the first time from January 12, 2008 through February 7, 2008. It was a challenging, yet enjoyable experience and I am glad to be going back again.

There was (and will again be) a large number of international students which makes for a uniquely multidimensional educational experience. It was enlightening learning about the different ways companies market in Germany, Brazil, Japan, Korea and myriad other locations around the world.

When I taught the course last year I had only been “officially” classroom teaching for a few months (I started teaching at DeVry University in Bakersfield in October 2007). So, I was still a little “green” or “wet behind the ears” (pick your euphemism).

Originally a second session was scheduled for the late summer of 2008, but the course was cancelled at the last minute. It’s hard to believe it is a year later: time really is flying!

This time around, I can leverage another solid year of teaching experience. On some levels it feels like a completely different course, but I’ve really just built up from the original foundation I constructed last year.  I expect it will be a much stronger effort that is ultimately more enjoyable and educational for my students.

Most notably, due to some budgetary issues, all Extension courses are now offered on the actual UCSB campus — so now I will be teaching on the very campus where I took classes more than a decade ago as an undergraduate!

I am again using the book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly,” by David Meerman Scott.

However, I have added a compelling new book from branding expert Martin Lindstrom, “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy,” which explores the fascinating world of neuromarketing. I will also have a guest speaker, Beth Mansfield, who is the Public Relations Manager for CKE Enterprises (Carl’s Jr.).

Incidentally I have come to know both David Meerman Scott and Beth Mansfield through my use of Twitter (Beth is the official “voice” of Carl’s Jr. on Twitter).  After some initial interactions with Beth I realized she was located just down the road from UCSB in Ventura, CA I invited her to come speak at my class — and she accepted!

I am definitely looking forward to this version of the class and excited about what the experience will be like. Interestingly, while preparing for it, I discovered a series of pictures I tool when I drove to and from class last year on January 19 (which is, incidentally, my younger son Max’s birthday).

I also realized that I never posted them online, so I have decided to do so below (note that last year my class was held off campus in Goleta, CA and not on the actual UCSB campus).  Without further adieu here are 20 pictures from a round trip journey on January 19, 2008 from Santa Clarita to Goleta, CA (and back):

Leaving Santa Clarita

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On the 126 Near Fillmore

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On the 101 Freeway North

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Alongside the Pacific Ocean on the 101 Freeway North

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080119_5_101_fwy_north_5

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Approaching Carpinteria

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At the Highway 217/101 Freeway Spit near UCSB

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Isla Vista!

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Glen Annie/Storke Rd — Where Extension Classes Were Previously Held

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Heading Back Home on the 101 Freeway South Near Summerland

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Just South of Carpinteria on the 101 Freeway

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Photos of the Pacific Ocean

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101 Freeway South in Ventura

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Merging Onto Highway 126 East Towards Santa Clarita

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Heading Home on Highway 126 Through Santa Paula

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Almost Home at the Highway 126/Interstate 5 Intersection

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Welcome to Santa Clarita!

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Driving to and from Bakersfield, CA across the “Grapevine” portion of Interstate 5 to teach at DeVry University presents unique challenges I might not otherwise encounter on a more urban commute. It’s not your typical drive, but it is reasonably painless and free of traffic.

However, there is one factor about commuting over the “Grapevine” that has the most impact on my ability to get and return home from work: weather. It is by far more extreme than weather even just a few miles north or south. I suppose being at an elevation of 4,000 feet might have something to do with that! Weather makes or breaks my commute — often without warning.

I’ve already driven through snow once this season (and drove through it three times last year on  January 23, 2008January 24, 2008 and February 4, 2008 — each time without chains). I’ve also driven through rain, sleet, wind and ever-changing combination of these and other phenomena.

For some strange reason I don’t mind the wild weather, though that might change if I ever find myself stuck for a few days in a snow drift!

On the morning of Tuesday, January 6, 2009 I drove through some outrageously thick fog while heading north to the DeVry University center at which I teach. I often drive with my camera at the ready (either the one in my Palm Centro or my woefully inadequate but somehow trustworthy Canon PowerShot A410) and that day was no exception.

I captured the photos and video below as I made my way to work roughly between Gorman and Lebec, CA.

Notably, I also encountered a similarly thick level of fog while coming home from work the afternoon of Thursday, January 8, 2009 — heading south and heading north — so I am unsure what the rest of this winter season has in store:

January 6, 2009

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

 

Adverse weather is not something we experience very much of here in Southern California.

Usually, whenever there is the slightest hint of moisture in the air our cadre of well coiffed weathermen, meteorologists (I forgot they have advanced training in meteors), start proclaiming armageddon and calling it the “Storm of the Century.”

However, the past few days have actually brought some wild winter storms to the area (see KTLA, KNBC, KCBS, The Signal and Los Angeles Times).

Weather has been a mess elsewhere too — across the country temperatures have plummeted as we seem to be deluged by some kind of nuclear winter (fortunately, without the nuclear part, but the result seems similar). Even Las Vegas is dealing with its biggest snowfall in 30 years!

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has now closed the “grapevine” portion of Interstate 5 (Castaic through Lebec) and also, quite surprisingly, the Antelope Valley Freeway (14) from Soledad Canyon in Santa Clarita through 10th Street in Palmdale. Several other major freeways have been shut down as well.

It’s been a wild few days.

Fortunately, I quite literally just missed getting stuck in this storm. I was teaching at DeVry in Bakersfield on Tuesday, December 16. In the afternoon, when I drove to campus, there was a light dusting of snow atop some of the higher points in the Grapevine. However, there was no immediate danger or impediment to my progress.

Here are some photos I took that afternoon with my Palm Centro and sent them to my Twitter account using a service called TwitPic. (Note: My orginal desire was to embed the images from my TwitPic account into this page and avoid duplicating them. Unfortunately, that only worked for a short time before the image seemed to expire — so I’ve gone ahead and uploaded the photos to WordPress):

December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Pyramid Lake: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Lebec: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Gorman: December 16, 2008

Later that night, after finishing my classes I headed home. As I approached Lebec at roughly 11:30 p.m., the steady rain that began 30 minutes earlier in Bakersfield transformed into sleet. By the time I reached the Tejon Pass (elevation: 4,144 feet), I was driving into a steady flow of snow.

It got fairly dense at one point, and I became slightly concerned as I was driving my Scion xB and had no chains. Mercifully, the snow began to dissipate once I made it through Gorman. I continued onward and made it home without any problems.

Photos from that adventure follow (taken, as before, with my Palm Centro):

December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Tejon Pass: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Tejon Pass: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Gorman: December 16, 2008

Hopefully my luck will continue the next time a big storm blows into Southern California! Either way I will be sure to post some pictures and/or video from the experience. Stay warm!

After twice trying to find a doctoral program that satisfied my intellectual curiosity while giving me the tools and credentials I need to become a university-level researcher and teacher, I’ve decided that the time is now for me to finally make it happen.

pic_phd_degreeTo anchor this desire to a tangible goal, I will give myself until Tuesday, December 1, 2009 to prepare and submit all of my applications to doctoral programs.

From this point forward I will refer to this date is my “PhD-Day.”

Why this date?

Simple: of all the doctoral programs that interest me, December 1, 2009 is the first application deadline for fall 2010 enrollment. This is the date on which I will finally take that “one giant leap” into my long awaited career in academia.

Although circumstances beyond my control were partially the reason behind my pulling away from my doctoral pursuits, I know now that I was also not clear enough about my goals. I just wanted a doctorate and did not give any meaningful consideration to the discipline in which it was anchored and how that would impact my future career options.

Previously I thought having a PhD qualified you to teach any subject, but I now realize that, with rare exceptions, the discipline in which you earn you PhD is the discipline in which you will concentrate your research and teaching.

Knowing the purpose of a PhD is to, as one of my colleagues comically suggests, know more about less, I must start with a question of “what” first, then determine “how.” I have therefore stopped first looking for a program (the “how”) that I will then try to make work with my interests (the “what”).

Instead I will take the opposite approach and first determine the topics I want to research and teach (the “what”) and then find a program that offered opportunities to study it (the “how”).

After evaluating what most interests me, I realized it had been staring me in the face the entire time: social media. I have previously mentioned my interest in this burgeoning topic in previous posts and in my list of research interests, so this is not breaking news by any means.

However, I have finally embraced the idea of studying it academically so I can understand it as a researcher and not just as a user.  Specifically, my research interest is to investigate the impact of social media on the creation and distribution of information.

What is social media?

I define social media as follows:

Social media includes information generated with and shared by individuals using various web-based tools including blogs, message boards, video sharing sites, wikis, chat, IM and similar technology.

I also feel it is related to concepts such as crowdsourcing and collective individualism.  Social media also touches on the idea of distributed computing, though in the case of social media the “nodes” are human and not computers.

In a more abstract interpretation, social media could also cross into the realm of artificial intelligence — especially as the tools we use to connect socially online continue to become more intuitive and personalized to each user.

The main use of social media is knowledge sharing among individuals for the greater good. However, it can also be leveraged (or exploited, depending on how you look at it) for commercial gain. Of course, marketing in this medium is not without its challenges and it certainly can’t be done in a traditional way (e.g. forced and artificial vs. the natural, organic feel of true social media).

Beyond products, people who participate in social media often market ideas or even products by the information they share (consider the metoric rise of Barack Obama who, despite your political persuasion, was impressively effective at using social media in his presidential campaign).

Social media can also be used as a training and development tool.  As a father to a child diagnosed with autism, I also wonder how social media might help my son learn social skills and share information in a virtual environment. As a parent, I have already been impressed by the power of social media to connect me with important information and individuals focused on autism.

I am also fascinated by the thought of using social media to enable many individuals to complete parts of a larger task (what first piqued my interest in this was when Steve Fossett went missing and there was an attempt to find him using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, even though that effort was not successful in finding him).

Clearly, social media can be both a communication tool and a marketing channel. I am interested in social media in both of its forms. It intrigues me that technology can so intensely enhance our human experience.

How will I study social media?

My investigation into current doctoral programs that include social media revealed it is relevant to several disciplines. Information Technology/Computer Science and Communication are the two I have most frequently found. Social media is also relevant to the disciplines of Psychology, Marketing and Sociology. Given the impact social media has had on the workplaces, Management is also a reasonable discipline in which to study it.

It makes sense that social media crosses into several disciplines — it is quite pervasive, but can also be investigated from many different angles. Perhaps what angles I want to study, or maybe how I want to study social media, will ultimately dictate the discipline within which I will investigate it further.

At the moment my assumption is that I will most likely be studying social media either within a Communication or Marketing program.

Where will I study social media?

Given my practitioner mindset and entrepreneurial orientation I would like to be able to teach in a business school. To do that I will need a PhD from an AACSB-accredited program.

However, given my background in communications and journalism I wonder if Communications would be a more suitable environment (especially since I am not as interested in traditional business subjects like finance and economics)?

I am still evaluating my options, but right now my top choices include the following (in alphabetical order):

  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Information Systems (Interfield)
  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Organizational Behavior (Interfield)
  • UCLA: PhD in Marketing (Anderson School of Management)
  • UCSB: PhD in Communication (Technology and Society Emphasis)
  • USC: PhD in Marketing (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Management (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Communication (Annenberg School for Communication)

Aside from the obvious criteria of being accepted into a program is the issue of funding. Having already borrowed my way through an MBA program, my goal with the PhD is to get the cost of the program covered while also earning additional income through fellowships and other related methods.

Why do I want to earn a PhD?

I have always wanted to understand why and how certain things work (or don’t work). Whether I am contrarian by nature or unquenchably inquisitive, I was never satisfied with a surface level answer about anything. My problem was, and remains, not having the proper “tools” with which to conduct proper inquiry.

I also fundamentally enjoy creating and sharing knowledge. Looking back to my years in journalism, I think the desire to craft a story and share it with readers is related to the same idea. Notably, I recently learned the first academic paper I wrote and presented was referenced in a book called “MBA in a Day” and an article I wrote about non-profit fundraising five years ago in Marketing News (the bi-weekly trade paper of the American Marketing Association) was cited in a recent academic paper.

I was energized knowing that something I wrote helped someone else create something of their own. I want to be an active part of this process. On a related note, my experiences at academic conferences were unquestionably positive and motivating. I relished those opportunities to exchange ideas and information with difference people, creating knowledge in the process. This is why I am so endeared to the concept of “generative learning,” which Peter Senge defines as learning that “enhances our capacity to create.”

My long term purpose in embarking on this undertaking is to secure a position at a university where I can engage in active research while still teaching. I have been adjuncting online and in person for roughly 18 months now and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It has been a very liberating and affirming time for me, especially when I continue to get positive reviews and comments from students. But I also want to be adding to the academic dialogue, not just guiding students to a basic understanding of what has already been produced.

Also, although I have no pressing desire to go back to the corporate world, I am open to partnering with industry on research and also potentially consulting on the side. I just really don’t want to have to worry about red staplers and TPS reports! Even when I was in industry I tended to approach things in a more intellectual way than most. I even had two managers with whom I had good relationships tell me I was definitely “an academic” and would do well in that world.

I am a thinker and a tinkerer, but not a hard-core corporate type. I enjoy discussing and debating a topic sometimes more than “doing” whatever that topic is related to. For example, I enjoy the concept of branding and understanding how people develop allegiance to a brand, but don’t necessarily want to go launch a branding campaign.

How will I stay focused on my goal?

Staying focused on achieving my goal of earning a PhD will be challenging, given the various personal and professional obstacles I will need to overcome to see it through. At the same time, I find myself thinking about a PhD with increasing frequency: it is something I must do, not just something I want to do.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of distractions. Ironically, during the past eight months, I have repeatedly encountered one kind of distraction while driving to and from my adjunct teaching job: a delivery truck with graffiti on the roll top door that reads “PhD.” I am sure this is some tagger’s initials, but for me it represents and reminds me of my dream: a PhD.

What makes it more significant to me is that I have seen it numerous times — driving north or south, in the morning or afternoon. Usually I encounter it on or near the Grapevine portion of Interstate 5. I am unsure where it is driving to or coming from, all I know is I have seen it numerous times — at least a half dozen.

Perhaps this truck is my albatross — or maybe its just coincidence? Maybe it was sent by the “PhDMV” to keep me on track?

Below are two photos I took of the truck on March 25, 2008 while heading home from DeVry (southbound on Interstate 5). Following the photos is a short video clip I filmed the morning of October 6, 2008 while heading north between the base of the Grapevine and the split between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 North (near Lebec, CA):

What are my next steps?

Now that I have defined and committed to this ambitious goal, how do I intend to achieve it? My next steps include the following:

  • Thoroughly research the PhD programs at the aforementioned schools.
  • Read “The Craft of Research” and write a specific research statement.
  • Begin reviewing the academic theories relevant to social media.
  • Speak with colleagues and mentors to understand my options.
  • Start writing my statement of purpose.
  • Explore grants and scholarships.

See you in a year on PhD-Day!

ampm_logoLast night I had an unexpected experience at the AM/PM on Ming Avenue near the 99 Freeway in Bakersfield while getting coffee for my drive home: comped coffee!

That’s right, a whole $1.39 of coffee for free! Who says good things never happen to nice people? I had just left the DeVry Center where I had stayed late to grade assignments for the two classes I am now teaching — COMP-100 (Computer Applications for Business with Lab) and BUSN-115 (Introduction to Business and Technology) — and was “filling up” with caffeine for the 75 mile drive south.

As I was mixing plenty of creamer and sugar into my coffee the lights went out on the entire corner and nearby areas. At that point the clerk and I were the only people inside the building — which suddenly became eerily quiet without the constant humming of equipment that normally permeates the store.

I was unsure what to do. Despite it being dark outside and very late, I felt no great sense of urgency or panic. The clerk was busy looking for a flashlight and didn’t give me any instructions either. So, I continued making my coffee! Of course, since it was dark I had to use my cell phone as a flashlight while I mixed and stirred my drink, but all things considered it worked out well.

Of course, when I was done and asked the clerk how to pay him, he admitted that, given the circumstances there was really no way he could charge me for the coffee (the register and everything else was locked and had no power). So, I thanked him and graciously accepted my “comped coffee!”

I wonder if a free lunch is next?

Since 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 1, 2008 the California Vehicle Code (CVC) mandates that all drivers use a “hands-free” device when driving and talking on a cellular phone.  The state actually passed two laws which are now active as Section 23123 and Section 23124 of the CVC.

According to the new laws, drivers caught talking on a hand-held cell phone will be subject to fines of $20 for the first ticket and $50 for subsequent tickets. Additional fees can potentially more than triple the fine — I have heard that the average first ticket will cost $76!

One silver lining in this dark cloud: although the infraction will appear on your driving record the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will not assign you a violation point.

Below is an instructional video about the news laws followed by Q & A about them (courtesy of the DMV):

Q: When do the new wireless telephone laws take effect?
A: The new laws take effect July 1, 2008.

Q: What is the difference between the two laws?
A: The first prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle, (Vehicle Code (VC) §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a “hands-free device.” Drivers under the age of 18 may NOT use a wireless telephone or hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124).

Q: What if I need to use my telephone during an emergency, and I do not have a “hands-free” device?
A: The law allows a driver to use a wireless telephone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agency.

Q: What are the fines(s) if I’m convicted?
A: The base fine for the FIRST offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With the addition of penalty assessments, the fines can be more than triple the base fine amount.

Q: Will I receive a point on my driver license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone law?
A: No. The violation is a reportable offense, however, DMV will not assign a violation point.

Q: Will the conviction appear on my driving record?
A: Yes, but the violation point will not be added.

Q: Will there be a grace period when motorists will only get a warning?
A: No. The law becomes effective July 1, 2008. Whether a citation is issued is always at the discretion of the officer based upon his or her determination of the most appropriate remedy for the situation.

Q: Are passengers affected by this law?
A: No. This law only applies to the person driving a motor vehicle.

Q: Do these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws?
A: Yes.

Q: Can I be pulled over by a law enforcement officer for using my handheld wireless telephone?
A: Yes. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.

Q: What if my phone has a push-to-talk feature, can I use that?
A: No. The law does provide an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a “push-to-talk” feature. However, a push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable.

Q: What other exceptions are there?
A: Operators of an authorized emergency vehicle during the course of employment are exempt, as are those motorists operating a vehicle on private property.

 

Drivers 18 and Over

Drivers 18 and over will be allowed to use a “hands-free” device to talk on their wireless telephone while driving. The following FAQs apply to those motorists 18 and over.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law prohibit you from dialing a wireless telephone while driving or just talking on it?
A: The new law does not prohibit dialing, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.

Q: Will it be legal to use a Bluetooth or other earpiece?
A: Yes, however you cannot have BOTH ears covered.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow you to use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving?
A: Yes.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow drivers 18 and over to text message while driving?
A: The law does not specifically prohibit that, but an officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely. Sending text messages while driving is unsafe at any speed and is strongly discouraged.

Drivers Under 18

Q: Am I allowed to use my wireless telephone “hands-free?”
A: No. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop or any other electronic communication or mobile services device to speak or text while driving in any manner, even “hands-free.” EXCEPTION: Permitted in emergency situations to call police, fire or medical authorities (VC §23124).

Q: Why is the law stricter for provisional drivers?
A: Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Teen drivers are vulnerable to driving distractions such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking or texting on wireless devices, which increase the chance of getting involved in serious vehicle crashes.

Q: Can my parents give me permission to allow me to use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. The only exception is an emergency situation that requires you to call a law enforcement agency, a health care provider, the fire department or other emergency agency entity.

Q: Does the law apply to me if I’m an emancipated minor?
A: Yes. The restriction applies to all licensed drivers who are under the age of 18.

Q: If I have my parent(s) or someone age 25 years or older in the car with me, may I use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. You may only use your wireless telephone in an emergency situation.

Q: Will the restriction appear on my provisional license?
A: No.

Q: May I use the hands-free feature while driving if my car has the feature built in?
A: No. The law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using any type of wireless device while driving, except in an emergency situation.

Q: Can a law enforcement officer stop me for using my “hands-free” device while driving?
A: For drivers under the age of 18, this is considered a SECONDARY violation meaning that a law enforcement officer may cite you for using a “hands-free” wireless device if you were pulled over for another violation. However, the prohibition against using a handheld wireless device while driving is a PRIMARY violation for which a law enforcement officer can pull you over.

It is hoped the laws will reduce distractions to drivers, thereby mitigating the 4,000 traffic accident deaths that occur in the state each year.

A study released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute documented 80 percent of accidents are caused by driver distraction, and 65 percent of near-crashes resulted from driver inattention three seconds before the event. The Public Policy Institute of California anticipates 300 fewer traffic fatalities annually once these new laws take effect.

Yet, there remains great debate as to how much using a hands-free device improves your ability to pay attention to the road beyond what you would experience by simply holding the phone to your ear.

In a June 28, 2008 a Daily Breeze article, California State University, Dominguez Hills psychology professor Larry Rosen, a specialist in the psychology of technology, is quoted as follows:

“Hands-free phones are no safer than handheld – it’s all an issue of cognitive load, or brain power. If you talk to somebody on a phone, you only get a limited number of cues, as opposed to looking at someone when you can see their demeanor, their facial expressions. When you don’t have those cues, your brain has to work hard to fill them in and having to work extra hard means you’ll be paying little attention to the road.”

Additionally, as reported in a July 2, 2008 Daily News article, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discovered listening to a conversation while driving reduces brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent!

So, as was echoed in the quote by professor Rosen (above), it’s not how you are talking on your cell phone that matters — it’s the fact that you are talking on your cell phone. You could have two extra hands on the wheel while wearing your headset and still drive like an idiot.

That being said, I think using a headset is a nice option while you are in the car — though I think it actually has the opposite effect: it makes me want to talk more. I find myself more engaged in the conversation because I don’t have to think about holding the phone. I am unsure if I am in the normal or abnormal category for this issue, but it is how I feel.

For nearly the past month I have been using the Plantronics Explorer 350 with my Palm Centro — mostly as I drove to and from DeVry University in Bakersfield, but also around town on short errands. It works very well and it is reasonably comfortable. I like it because it sits in my ear, making it easier to hear the person with whom I am speaking.

I recommend this device to anyone looking for a Bluetooth headset. I do, however, not recommend wearing it outside of your car — you can get away with looking like a dork/Borg from Star Trek in your car, but once you are outside of it, the same cannot be said!

I initially tried a Motorola H500, but either the unit I had was defective or the design doesn’t suit me — becasue I could almost never hear anyone whether I was at highway speeds or even on side streets.

In any case, the results of this new law remain to be seen, but if it has the same effect as most other laws related to driving — or even most laws for that matter — I doubt it will have much of an impact beyond generating additional revenue for the state that can get misappropriated.

I am encouraged by the portion of the law dealing with drivers under 18, as that seems to make the most sense: completely outlawing the use of cell phones while driving is the only way to (at least legally) ensure that drivers are no longer distracted by them.

At the same time I am a realist: making something illegal does little to prevent someone determined to do it from doing it.  I also know that if you aren’t distracted by your cell phone while driving there are plenty of other things to do the job: kids, pets, people, iPods,  the stereo, makeup, food — the list goes on. I once even saw a woman reading a book while driving down the 405 Freeway Southbound in the Sepulveda pass!

But, if you live in California, it is now law, so unless you want to waste a lot of money you need to “get assimilated” and find yourself an earpiece that works for you. Just look at the bright side: now you will have an extra hand free so you can hold your coffee and your breakfast burrito while talking on the phone!

After exciting Southbound Interstate 5 this morning at 12:18 a.m. I noticed the temperature indicator in my car displayed 89 degrees (Fahrenheit). I was coming home from the DeVry University center in Bakersfield where I just wrapped up another successful 8-week session.

This reminded me of a time when I drove into Scottsdale, Arizona for a Theta Chi Fraternity convention at about the same time of day in August (roughly 14 years ago) when it was 101 degrees.

Certainly there are hotter places in the world, but it has still been just unbearable in the Santa Clarita Valley these past few days.

Temperatures are expected to reach upwards of 107 degrees today and if it is 89 degrees this early in the morning, I can only imagine how hot it will be in just a few hours.

Thank God for air conditioning!