Apr 08 2013

California Court Strikes Down Smartphone GPS Use While Driving

Texting while driving isn’t the only thing that lawmakers are concerned about.

The dangers of texting while driving have been well publicized in the media thanks to campaigns by Oprah Winfrey and AT&T. But now, lawmakers in California have set their sights on a new target: smartphones equipped with GPS applications.

According to a report from Techdirt, a California court has found that “using a mobile phone to check a mapping/GPS program violates the state's law against distracted driving.”

The ruling suggests that the touching of a mobile device while driving should be banned, which would not necessarily affect individual phone activities. Presumably, drivers could use GPS apps as long as they are using them in a hands-free way.

But why are technological distractions treated differently than nontech distractions? Is it significantly more distracting to glance at a smartphone while driving than to wrestle with a gigantic paper map while driving? Under current laws, only the smartphone map is frowned upon.

In defense of technology, Techdirt points to a 2010 study that found that laws banning texting while driving haven’t been terribly effective at curbing the behavior. Another study found that drivers simply went to more lengths to hide their texting-while-driving behavior, which made them more dangerous on the road than before such laws were passed.

Of course, now that most mapping applications have voice-activated features and controls, a ruling mandating that they be hands-free is hardly a death knell to drivers who rely on the technology.

But it does raise questions about the role of the smartphone in the car. If laws continue to tighten the reins on its use while driving, connected-car technologies will look a lot more appealing.