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Texting While Driving Illegal, But Navigating Okay

Our smartphones can be a valuable tool, especially when trying to navigate unfamiliar roads. I often find myself wondering how I got anywhere before the advent of GPS. But as of late, drivers in California have been getting tickets for so much as glancing at their phones while driving. This includes drivers using their phones for navigation.

Is it really illegal now to even look at your phone while driving? Recently, some new guidance on this issue emerged from a California appellate court in Fresno, which ruled that it's still illegal to text and drive, but looking at a map on your phone is okay. The ruling forgave local driver Steven Spriggs' $165 traffic ticket, which was issued as he was using a navigation app to seek out alternate routes in a traffic jam. Lower courts found that Spriggs' use of his phone for navigation fell under a 2006 law that prohibited holding a phone in one's hand while having a conversation. But the appeals court just reversed the decision, stating, I think correctly, that the law in question really doesn't prohibit all contact with hand-held phones, only that which involves conversations or text-based communication.

We've looked before at California's cell phone ban, but basically the gist is that all hand-held talking and written communication is illegal. However, the law doesn't stipulate anything about navigation. So now you know. At least until the law is amended, you don't have to worry about being ticketed for navigating on your phone. Though, of course, there is still the issue of proving exactly what you were looking at on your phone at the time of a citation. The bottom line is that hand held conversations and texts are illegal.

While it is convenient to be able to use phone navigation in the car, I do wonder whether this activity actually should be illegal. It is terribly distracting to look at your cell phone for navigation purposes but sometimes necessary. It is terribly distracting to try to read directions on a sheet of paper as well. Getting lost is likely to get someone into an accident as well due to not having a navigation system. While I support cutting down on distracted driving however we can, and there's no question that using your phone in almost any capacity while you're driving can lead to distraction, we as a society are still searching for that comfortable place that is an acceptable solution.

We know that talking on a hands-free device can be just as distracting as talking on a hand-held but talking hands free is legal. There are many inconsistencies in the laws as they now exist and continue to evolve. Many of these same arguments can be made for fiddling with the radio, eating, drinking, shaving and whatever else people do in their cars that is legal but can be just as distracting.

Most existing data points to conversing and texting as the two most distracting things you can do while you drive, and both of these things are illegal. I think the real question here is what kinds of laws will really cut down on distracted driving accidents? The study from the Colorado School of Mines that I cited on the blog a couple weeks ago demonstrates that California has not actually seen a significant change in accident rates since the start of the cell phone ban. It would behoove our legislators to take a step back and consider how to make the existing legislation smarter so that it has a real impact and also makes sense.

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