Keep your ear on the road with hands-free cellphone solutions
As of July 1, a police officer can pull you over and give you a ticket for DWT -- Driving While Talking.

On a cellphone, that is, if it's held up to your ear.

Talking on cellphones in cars will still be allowed (otherwise, life as we know it in Southern California would come to a halt), but drivers must use a hands-free device while gabbing, according to a California law ratified in 2006 and finally about to take effect.

The law applies to drivers 18 and older. Drivers under 18 will not be permitted to use a cellphone on the road, except in emergencies.

If you don't have a car with a built-in, hands-free talk device, you'll need one to stay on the good side of the law while cell chatting.

There are three categories to choose from: wired headset, wireless headset and wireless speakerphone. Below are reviews of popular models in each category.

All of the devices tested had pros and cons. But don't expect any of them to make you a substantially better driver. There are scientific studies showing that hands-free talking while driving is no safer than with phone-to-ear. Phone conversation is the primary distraction.

Wired headsets

These headsets, wired directly to phones, are old school. But the good ones still offer the best sound quality. And they're simple to use right out of the box.

On the con side is that darned wire. Getting out of the car with groceries and the dog while cell chatting is nearly impossible without snagging on something. And as for fashion, a wired headset gives you an air traffic controller look that's not likely to be featured in a "Sex and the City" sequel.

Although wired headsets are relatively inexpensive, beware of dirt-cheap models. They might not have acceptable sound quality for car use.

In testing, the Plantronics MX500C (about $30) offered great sound and a comfortable, under-ear attachment system that holds the lightweight unit in place without pinching. Even on an extremely noisy Gold Line train platform, with 210 Freeway traffic whizzing by on both sides, people I called had no trouble hearing me.

On the downside, the plastic mic on the unit can pop out and get lost, and the rubberized earplug cover eventually wears down.

The Plantronics MX250 (about $20) is more compact, but that's the only advantage. The clip-on fit system was unsteady, the sound quality substandard and the look especially nerdy.

Both these units are for cellphones with standard 2.5 millimeter jacks.

Wireless headsets

These wire-free headsets use Bluetooth technology that's a bit of a pain to set up, but not nearly as much as in years past. And although they don't offer the audio quality of the best wired units, they sound much better than they used to.

Some even manage to be ascetically passable, though many still look like discarded props from early "Star Trek" episodes.

The best lookers, by far, were the Motorola H12 (about $70) and H680 (about $50). With retro styling in black and silver, they look like stylish miniature radios from the golden era of that medium.