I have been using a GPS for years.  It has gotten to the point where I don’t really know my way around Miami.  I just put my destination into my iPhone and do what whatever it tells me.  Since I am not focused on the actual directions, I am not as knowledgeable about my surrounding as as I should be. So the few times I found myself with my phone in a different part of town, I was in a bit of trouble.  I use a program called GPS Drive by Motion X.  Not only does it have standard turn-by-turn directions but it also has the ability to find the best routes around traffic.  That is a feature that I find indispensable given the traffic in my city.  So imagine my consternation when I heard that use of map apps while driving was not illegal in California.

But I was not surprised. I have always wondered how texting, or other such activities are often illegal, while playing around with iPhone music tracks, audiobooks, podcasts or finding location through the GPS, are somehow exempt.  I am a tech nerd so I don’t use my phone just for maps.  There are lots of applications that I find useful on the road. I do not text, and I do have a hand free setup in my car.  Yet, I have always had a nagging feeling about the safety of trying to find the right song in my library.

Well, in California at least, my question has been answered, at least for maps: the judge ruled that using a mobile phone to fiddle with a mapping/GPS program qualifies as distracted driving (thus rendering it illegal per state law). [via techdirt]

The case involved a driver that was cited for using a cell phone while driving, which is against the law in California.  The driver claimed that he was not talking on the phone but using his map application so the law did not apply in this situation. The state did admit that its distracted driving law may be overly broad, but it nonetheless applied.  The court found that the law clearly forbids using a wireless phone while driving “unless the device is being used in a hands-free manner.

Now, I do feel there is a difference between using a map app and texting or holding the hone to talk.  While the initial actions may be the same, texting and taking will continue on for a period of time where GPS or other apps usually involve a single action.  But it still seems dangerous.  Situations such as trying to find a location that does not show up on the map, or the length of time required to find your destinati0n when you don’t know how it is spelled.

I would be interested in seeing the statistics on accidents caused by the use cell phones in actions other than speaking or texting.  Although only correlative, it still may help provide some measure as to whether there is an equal danger.  But for now, people of California may want to pull over before they use their map app or they may find that the police will do it for them.

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As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art and law. Should you have any questions on intellectual property contact him through his website at SchlackmanIPlaw.com. His photography can be seen online at at Fotofilosophy.com or on display at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York City.