In March, 2013, a California court denied an appeal by a driver who had been ticketed for using his cell phone while driving in January, 2012. The driver went to court contending that he was not texting or talking on the phone, which, when not hands-free, is illegal in California. Rather, he said, he was using a GPS navigation application to find his way in unfamiliar territory, and since the laws are specifically about taking on a phone, texting and/or surfing the net while driving, the map-checking should be allowed. The court disagreed. In its decision to rule against the driver, the appeals court effectively made map-checking a GPS app on your smart phone while you’re behind the wheel, illegal behavior in California, because it is no different than texting or dialing a phone number.
The court ruled: “Our review of the statute’s plain language leads us to conclude that the primary evil sought to be avoided is the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone. That distraction would be present whether the wireless telephone was being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails.”
The ruling makes California the first state to ban map checking while driving and more states are expected to follow. The general consensus seems to be that if a driver is looking away from the road, then the driver is looking away from the road! In that spirit, a ban on using phones while driving is meant to prevent distractions of all kinds. It would probably be next to impossible for a law enforcement officer to determine what kind of activity a person is conducting on their phone – talking, texting or map-checking – and it makes enforcement of a state’s law somewhat more difficult.
No one denies the dangers of distracted driving. The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has its own website dedicated to raising awareness to the horrors resulting from something as “innocent” as a brief text behind the wheel. Distraction.gov presents ways the general public can get the facts, get involved and take action. DOT has also puts out a booklet, “Blueprint For Ending Distracted Driving,” that you can Download and learn about the country’s comprehensive strategy for ending texting and using handheld cell phones when you’re behind the wheel. It’s definitely worth sharing with every driver you know, especially the youngest among us.