This Threatening Staples Sign Misrepresents The Law

Staples is reminding Alabama consumers that state law requires them to use a hands-free device to talk on the phone while driving; which would be nice except Alabama is one of 45 states that has no such law.

Jim writes:

Greetings, Consumerist braintrust. Attached is a picture I think you’ll find interesting. I took it yesterday at my local Staples store. As you can see, it states that as of July 1, 2008, it is the law that you must use a hands-free calling device while operating a vehicle. And that’s certainly true. At least, it’s true in California. But I live in Birmingham, Alabama, which is a couple thousand miles away from California, and which has no such laws. There was no disclaimer on the display, just a “DO IT NOW!” admonition to comply with a law that doesn’t apply to you.

Five states restrict their residents from yabbering while driving: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, and as of July 1, California.

Call us old fashioned, but we think public safety laws should be written by legislators, not marketers.

Cell Phone Driving Laws [Governors Highway Safety Association]


Edit Your Comment

  1. loganmo says:

    Ahem-don’t forget DC! Although, my understanding of the law, was that at least it used to be written was that it is illegal to use a cell phone while driving that doesn’t have a hands free device-not a requirement to actually use it.

  2. randombob says:

    Off with their Heads!

  3. Amy Alkon000 says:

    People should restrict themselves from holding a cell phone (or mascara or whatever) while driving, because it’s not nice to hurt, maim, or kill other people.

  4. ARP says:

    Don’t forget Chicago (for all practical purposes, Chicago is its own state). This is probably just a merchandising “error.” Most retail stores must put out the same signage for consistency of message purposes.

    At least that’s what they would say if anyone complained.

  5. NumberFiveIsAlive says:

    Actually, this sign is more wrong then you guys realize. It says you MUST use a hands free calling device while operating a vehicle. In other words, you cannot operate a vehicle if you do not have a hands free device, period. If you don’t have a hands free device, even if you don’t intend to use it, don’t get in a vehicle. So this sign is wrong on so many levels. Of course you know its talking about cell phones, but the sign doesn’t say that.

  6. Emrikol says:

    Last time I was in a Cingular/AT&T store they gave me the same song and dance. I would have to buy a hands free kit because Indiana was going to have the same law, as of July 1st.

    I’m suuuuuure they were only confused.

  7. timmus says:

    What are those weird circles on the sign supposed to represent? (squints) Uh… I see…. a lady with massive boobs. Crap, there’s my male brain at work again.

  8. PsychicPsycho3 says:

    @NumberFiveIsAlive: I read it the same way. Tough turnips if you need to get somewhere but don’t need to make a call.

  9. Manok says:

    who honestly buys things there other than paper and maybe a pen?

  10. VeeKaChu says:

    @timmus: Ugh, now I see that to- it’s Britney post-headshave! Easily cured, just pretend it’s a really small male organ pointed right at your head (or rotate it 90% and it’s John Kruk supine on the divan).

  11. silver-spork says:

    @Manok: Staples is the only place around that carries my Epson printer refills, as I found out when my husband went to Best Buy and came home empty-handed.

  12. BabyGorilla says:

    North Carolina is #6 starting July 1 of this month

  13. acambras says:

    Meh – it’s been the law in Connecticut for almost 3 years, and it doesn’t seem like it’s being enforced.

  14. morganlh85 says:

    Are you sure the local government doesn’t have this law? Michigan doesn’t restrict driving with a cell phone, but many local municipalities in my area do.

  15. ospreyguy says:

    babygorilla I think you’ve been duped… the only states where it is a “law” are listed above. Feel free to kill at will.

  16. thesabre says:

    The OP is obviously in California. They just think they are living in Alabama.

  17. jordy777 says:

    This is tasteless sure, but I have a hard time defending the right to eat a burger with one hand, hold a cellphone with another, and operate a vehicle with their knees.

  18. Corporate probably just churned a bunch out for every store.

    It may be sneaky marketing, but if it helps get yahoos from holding their phones to their ear while they drive, I’m all for it.

  19. homerjay says:

    @Manok: I buy all kinds of stuff at Staples. At least locally its a very well run retailer and for electronics brick & mortar, it beats Best Buy.

    I believe NH also has this law.

  20. buyer5 says:

    The State Police in New York are the biggest offenders here.

  21. Charmander says:

    Hmmm…..maybe the sign was supposed to be sent to Seattle and they accidentally sent it to Alabama :) since it is the law here in WA State since July 1.

  22. masterthundar says:

    @homerjay: I would sure hope it beats Best Buy, which notoriously has the worst customer service in my area in TN.

    I didn’t know that scare-tactic advertising was that blatant outside of medicine for Restless Leg Syndrome.

  23. humphrmi says:

    While Illinois is not one of the states to have a “hands free” law yet, most of the Chicago suburbs do, and you effectively must use a hands-free device in all of Northeastern Illinois.

    Which got me thinking, is it possible that while Alabama does not have a state law, perhaps Birmingham does? Then the sign would be accurate…

    Just curious…

  24. cookmefud says:

    @Amy Alkon: really? just holding them guarantees that we’ll “hurt, maim, or kill other people”?

    wow. I’ll be more careful then from now on.

    on another note,
    alabama has way less people on the highways (and pretty much anywhere else) than california, new jersey, etc. so it’s understandable that they haven’t made that into a law yet.

  25. Rusted says:

    Actually, it seems to say that I must be using a hands free device while operating a vehicle at any time. Regardless if I need to to talk to anyone or not.

    Notice that talking in general and driving don’t seem to go together well. Had to “wake” a dunderhead up more then once at a traffic light.

  26. Trai_Dep says:

    The reason these bills passed in a flurry is that they found that drivers talking on phone drove worse and they singled out the ones holding their phones. The accessory companies and retailers, needless to say, were ecstatic.
    After the first blush of studies came out, they investigated further.
    It turns out that handsfree cell phones don’t make the slightest difference. None.
    It’s the talking over a phone that churns so many cycles (more than simply speaking to someone in your car (or yourself, to our schizophrenic readers).

    Have legislators revisited these laws to either ban cellphone use in cars or to waive the handsfree requirement? Have retailers? I’ll let you supply the answer.

    Add this to the stack of stupid laws that don’t address what they’re supposed to fix. What a crock.

    Although, I’m mightily impressed that Alabama is pushing a nonexistent, nonsensical law. They should win a special category of Stupid Prize for that one.

  27. AgentTuttle says:

    The point here is that big businesses will LIE or MISLEAD to make a buck.

  28. snoop-blog says:

    you know what we need, more laws, yeah that’s it. Because the police aren’t having any trouble inforcing the ones already in the book.

  29. skijmpr says:

    This reminds me of those videos on the Internets where people use cell phones to make popcorn pop. It turned out the videos were a marketing ploy by the maker of a hands-free device who wanted to drum up business the old-fashioned way: by scaring the pants off the consumer.

  30. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    That sign could also have been intended for Washington. That law went into effect here on 01 July also.

  31. zjgz says:

    @timmus: Subliminal advertising?

  32. AcidReign says:

        As an Alabamian, I like the sign, even if it’s not true. (And apparently, Mr. Language Person-flawed, as well!) Even if it were law, actually getting it enforced would be problematic, in this understaffed state. Phone-call driving is epidemic in these hyaar parts!

        We have pretty ridiculous traffic here in Birmingham, the Tragic City, not to mention a top-ten per capita murder rate. And that’s from someone who has regularly driven in Houston, Atlanta and New Orleans. No comparison! None of our interstates have more than 6 thru lanes. (3 per side) Most roads are under-built compared to the traffic load. There’s no public transportation except for maid-routes to the suburbs. Everyone drives, even the illegal immigrants with no license or insurance. There is no vehicle inspection law, so anything with wheels, a headlight, a brake light, and a tag can be on the street. And at least 50% of Alabama drivers are on the phone at any given time, especially on the interstates.

        Last January, I was sitting at a red traffic light just south of Birmingham, in front of the Piggly Wiggly, and a pony-tailed soccer mom in a black Suburban came blazing up behind me. The woman had a Razr glued to her face. There was nowhere to go. I braced for impact in my tiny Mazda, but she whipped the Suburban into the left turn lane and went around me, and out into the intersection. She plowed the SUV into the crossing traffic stream, wiping out three smaller vehicles. The Suburban then went over the curb on the right side of the street, took out a street sign, sideswiped a telephone pole, and finally came to rest on the sidewalk. The woman NEVER STOPPED TALKING ON THE PHONE! She got out, phone still held to her face, yackety-yack-yacking away. Unbelievable! She should have at least gotten jail time!

  33. @Trai_Dep: Word. Cuz it’s not like you have to use your hands to turn on the hands-free device anyway. It just magically answers every call without the push of a button!

    Here in CA, the law is maddening. As my cop family explained to me, you can’t drive while holding a cell phone up to your ear. But you can still text with one hand and drive with another. And, you can answer the phone, even if it means fumbling around for your corded/cordless, which IMHO is far more dangerous than just talking on the phone normally.

    BTW, driving with your little dog-rat in your lap is still legal.

  34. mminasian says:

    In a similiar story it enraged me to see a sign in a local cell phone store on my commute home (in LA) which says something like, “It’s the LAW, 50% off all bluetooth headsets” implying that A it’s required to use a headset, and not just the built in speakerphone, and B that not any headset will do, just a bluetooth. Now I’m a fan of bluetooth, but NOT this law, I am more distracted driving thinking about this law fumbling for the speakerphone button, or the headset, and sometimes after trying to do that look up and realize I haven’t been watching the road for ten seconds. GASP. Before the law just flick open the phone and keep going never losing sight of the road… ugg

  35. serreca says:

    @cookmefud: I’m going to assume you’ve never driven in Birmingham?

  36. redkamel says:

    too bad the ticket is only 20 bucks and far more distracting to coordinate the phone and the hands free at the same time. Not to mention I see cops talking on their cell phones as they drive.

    Its a stupid law because its the talking and playing with the phone (answer, hang up, text) that is distracting, not physically holding the phone to my ear. I can cook dinner, sharpen knives, make my bed etc with a phone on my manual skills are unimpared. But I cant study while talking.

  37. mindshadow says:

    As has been mentioned, Birmingham is pretty shitty as far as traffic is concerned. My friend from Atlanta came to visit and the first words out of his mouth were, “Man, Alabama sure has some shitty roads.” And it’s true. I have a hell of a time getting to work, and it’s only a 1 mile commute.

    First I have to pull across 4 lanes of traffic with barely any room to see what’s coming (Valley Ave & 20th, the intersection with Vulcan and Walgreens), and that’s usually a pretty big gamble as to if I’m going to get hit or not (my wife did). That’s not helped by the fact that the road is porely labeled, so anyone not familiar with the area doesn’t know there’s only the right lane to turn right or go straight until they come around the last curve, so it becomes a huge bottleneck (and the people that wait until the last minute to get over don’t help a bit). So usually a 5 minute drive takes me at least 10-15 minutes in the morning just to get out of my parking spot.

    On top of that, as Acid mentioned, the bar to get a drivers license and get your car on the road is very, very low. I’m surprised most people on the road know how to spell car. They’d have to probably ask the person on the other end of the phone to look it up.

    AcidReign pretty well hit it on the head though. This state needs a law like that end the cops to enforce it (though most cities would just make them do stuff that drives up revenue, like speed traps, so they can get one of them new big ole’ Charger cop cars… woo!).

    Sigh.. Alabama. :(

  38. OldJohnRobinson says:

    No doubt the signs were sent to the store “in error,” but that error would only be discovered after the store sold its allocation of whatever product it was displayed with.

    Anyone know the mark-up on a hands-free device? When I managed for Office Depot they were about 25-30%.

  39. Wyndikan says:

    I work at Staples, so let me shed some light on this issue. At my store in Indiana, we got the same sign and the manager pointed it out to me that it wasn’t illegal in our state, but in the city of Chicago (which we are close to) it is. From what I was told, these signs were simply sent out to stores in states it did not apply in on accident. I have no idea if it is true or not, but like Staples or not, I have to say that they are one of the most honest companies I have worked for.

  40. AcidReign says:

        @mindshadow: Oow! Those “Diaper Row”/Vulcan lanes pre-date WWI! They were designed for buckboards, or at least Model T cars. Not the modern SUV… I used to have to use Valley Avenue to head to work, but I got wise and started snaking my way through Saulter Road, to get to the Oxmoor Valley area. Wow. The only thing even remotely worth driving Valley Avenue for, is Sammy’s. And that’s from a guy who thinks strip clubs are a waste of money. Well, and Sonic…

  41. @buyer5: KUDOS! 100% agree. And NY Troopers have no mercy, for anything. I was on my phone, calling 9-1-1 over a rogue driver who almost HIT a school bus, and I GOT PULLED OVER for talking on my cell phone! I explained to the cop, and really pressed for him to get THE OTHER CAR — I even said that the law says I can’t get in trouble for using my phone to call 9-1-1. FINALLY after 10 freakin minutes (And that other car, long gone….) he let me go “With a Warning”. This is after I showed him I called 9-1-1 and he had to go back to his car and confirm it.

    Fucking RIDICULOUS.

  42. msbluesky says:

    @BabyGorrilla: Just FYI – you’re mistaken. North Carolina has no such “Hands-Free” law, even after July 1, except for preexisting regulations for drivers under the age of 18 and bus drivers. You’ve been duped (it’s a common myth) – []

  43. Jesse in Japan says:

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s such a good idea to allow legislators to write our laws either.

  44. @homerjay: It is, and I have the ticket that I got for talking on my phone without one to prove it!

  45. acknight says:

    @buyer5: @verucalise:

    Y’all do realize that the troopers and police are exempt from the hands-free law, right?

  46. rabiddachshund says:

    @BabyGorilla: There’s a whole ‘nother year this month? I guess my neighbor’s kid was right; next month is a long time away.

  47. rabiddachshund says:

    @acknight: Which is kind of fitting really, considering they have laptops mounted in their cars now. I saw one (from a few car-lengths away) the other day watching a movie while going down the road.

  48. the_gank says:

    How about they make a hands-free kit [such as the parrot 300] a standard package for all vehicles? Can the law-makers vote on that since it is something that allows motorists to focus on driving and the law-makers makes it a law assuming it will help reduce accident rates huh?

    —> this prolly will put bluetooth manufacturers out of biz..[some at least]….well may be not.

  49. mindshadow says:

    @AcidReign: Well, like I said, the big deal is I live RIGHT where Valley starts (right past the road to go up to Vulcan, across from Jefferson Board of Education), so I have a bit of a curve that I can’t see around. The traffic lights are timed so that there’s always traffic coming in one lane. Basically at this point my tactic is to have really good insurance because I know every time I go to work I’m rolling the dice unless I want to pull out, go way up the road and turn around on the road, which would be safer but is real impractical as far as time is concerned (I live only a mile from work, so I’d pretty much be doubling my trip also).

    Sammy’s used to be better, don’t know if you’ve been in a while, but it’s gone way downhill now. Plus the women aren’t as beautiful there anymore since my woman stopped working there. ;D When was the last time you were there? Oh, and Sonic is delicious.

  50. hc130radio says:

    I could be a local ordnance. I used to live in NM and Albuquerque and Santa Fe made it a local law, however no body enforced it.

  51. AcidReign says:

        @mindshadow: Sammy’s? It’s been at least ten years! I grew up in that area, in the 1960s. Hillside Circle apartments. Best seat in the city for 4th of July fireworks! Pretty big rooms, terrible heat, as I recall. My parents had to run the oven, propped open with a metal spoon, to keep the kitchen pipes from freezing in the winter. As to traffic, getting out onto Valley Avenue, yeowtch! I always felt like there should have been some kind of back way out into Rosedale…

  52. stuny says:

    Hey, anyone ever notice that cop radios aren’t hands-free? How come THAT’S legal?

  53. Legal_Eagle_In_Training says:

    @NumberFiveIsAlive: There is only so much detail you want to put on an advertisement. It’s expected that you understand the entire message, not just what’s written on the sign. Advertisements are supposed to get your attention and remember the product/store…

    It worked.

  54. mythago says:

    California ships so much tax money to southern states, I guess we might as well ship our surplus “don’t forget about the cellphone law” advertisements there too.

  55. Meathamper says:

    I think it’s corporate. Oh, wait…Staples is based in Massachusetts. Maybe UPS mixed up routing numbers.

  56. buyer5 says:

    @acknight: I’ve heard that before, but cops are magically better drivers, after all, they’ve never been involved in any accidents, or killed anyone in one.

  57. Smashville says:

    @serreca: I’m assuming you’ve never driven in New Jersey or California if you think Birmingham could even have a shadow of their traffic.

  58. @BabyGorilla: Wait, July 1st of THIS month, or July 1st of NEXT month? I’m confused.

  59. ironchef says:

    it should be the law.

    Cellphone use during driving is proven to be unsafe.

  60. Sian says:

    I don’t mind this too much.

    I see way too much douchebaggery on the road from people yammering while driving, not only because they’re distracted, but also because people who do this the most also tend to consider themselves more important than everyone else on the road.

  61. invader-zim says:

    I wish I had seen this earlier… i’m playing catch-up right now.

    Staples sent out two signs for the top of those shippers. One said “Drive Safely” or something, and the other said “It’s the Law”. Also included was a paper which showed which states had the law, so that stores could tag the shipper accordingly.

    This store put the wrong sign on. I’m not excusing it, just noting how the mistake was made.

    JIM: I sure hope that you pointed it out to the associates or a manager rather than just snapping a picture and tattling to the Consumerist. Bad service isnt in mistakes, it is in how the retailer handles the mistakes after they have made them. The misrepresentation was more than likely a mistake, which is easily corrected if it is pointed out.

  62. invader-zim says:

    Let me just add- obviously I work for a staples store. If someone can tell me which Birmingham store this was, I would be glad to call them and tell them to fix their sign, then check the consumerist for a picture of their store!

  63. Peabdog says:

    highland04, I’m the Jim that sent this in. It was the Hoover Staples location. The one on Highway 31, just past the Galleria heading north.

    And I planned on just telling the manager, but didn’t for a couple of reasons. For one, the staff wasn’t the most attentive, and I was in a big hurry to get home. (I’ve got a seven-week-old son at home. And I’ve worked with the public a lot, so I’m not a demanding customer. I don’t expect to be treated like royalty.)

    Second, I was a little put off by something else. I went into the store to get a pack of 100 Sony DVDs that were selling for $22 plus tax. However, I couldn’t find them in the DVD section. When I got someone’s attention, he pointed me to a stack that was priced at more than $40. I said, “But I thought they were $22,” and showed him the sales paper. He said, “Oh, if it’s in the paper, we’ll honor that price.” The DVDs did ring up for the advertised price, but I wondered if that was always the case.

    And I don’t have a big axe to grind against Staples. I’ve usually had really good experiences there. That just kinda made my “Hmmmm” radar light up.

  64. invader-zim says:


    I called the store today and they informed me that it had already been taken care of. I know for a fact that Staples corporate pays attention to this site, simply for the responses they’ve posted to the few articles that have been featured on this site about Staples, so I assume corporate had already contacted Staples.

    I hope I didnt sound too critical in my response.