Court rules navigation apps do not fall under distracted driving laws



While many states have outlawed the use of cell phones while driving, particularly for texting, a grey area has emerged in regards to using those same devices for other purposes. Most notably, does using a mobile device for navigation fall under the purview of these same distracted driving laws? A court in Fresno, California has reached a decision on the matter after a man appealed a traffic ticket he received for using a navigation app on his iPhone.

Steven Spriggs received the ticket two years ago while stopped in traffic on a congested highway. The appellate court’s ruling effectively tosses out all charges. A unanimous decision was reached by the Fifth District Court of Appeal with the understanding that laws pertaining to cell phone use specifically limit the use of such devices for talking and texting while operating a motor vehicle. They do not, however, encompass the use of a navigation app such as Google Maps.

Law enforcement officials are wary of such a slippery slope, believing drivers stopped for using their mobile phones might simply pull up a GPS app to hide the fact that they were actually texting or using their phone for some other purpose. The Fresno PD’s Captain Andy Hall says he sees no difference between texting and using a navigation app when it comes to safety.

California was recently the focus of another contested distracted driving case — one involving Google Glass. Similarly, a judge ruled that the emerging technology did not necessarily fall under the scope of laws that prohibit the viewing of a monitor while driving, if only because it was impossible to prove if the defendant, Cecilia Abadie, was actively using Glass at the time she was pulled over.


The ruling in Spriggs’ case, though it may now be used as a reference point for other similar cases in California, does not come as a wholesale endorsement of using a smartphone for purposes beyond talking and texting while driving. The justices’  decision was based on the specific wording of the law, but they admit that some changes might need to be made. As usage of mobile devices continues to grow, it would not be surprising at all to see states around the US adopt more stringent distracted driving laws that could ultimately limit how drivers can interact with navigation apps while on the road.

[via FresnoBee]


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  1. ” The Fresno PD’s Captain Andy Hall says he sees no difference between texting and using a navigation app when it comes to safety.”

    According to that reasoning he would be wanting to hand out tickets to anyone with a Garmin or TomTom dedicated GPS device.

    1. Consider the intent of the law as much as the letter. The intent is to provide safer roads by preventing people from engaging in distracting activities while driving. Trying to type in an address, or browse for a semi local coffee shop while you’re driving, regardless of the device you use is distracted driving. In Ontario, Canada, the law is clear. It’s illegal to operate electronic devices by hand while driving. Voice command is ok. If you need to manipulate your device, be that send a text, or program your GPS, you need to be off the road, with the vehicle parked.

      1. This, but you can’t instantly open maps and have it be navigating you somewhere. It takes a little time to do that so the argument that a driver would just open a nav app when stopped for talking or texting is questionable. An officer would see you using the device after being stopped.

        1. You could probably do it with something like Motorola’s Touchless Controls.

          1. Yes, but it still takes time to launch the app and have it load the route. I see your point though, you don’t necessarily have to handle the phone to make it happen.

    2. So does the PD Captain also support a ban on officers using their in-dash computers to check license plates while their cars are moving?

      Doubtful. Hypocritical prick. (Him, not you)

    3. So he thinks it’s illegal for car manufacturers to build 8″ touchscreens into their cars?

  2. So, does the Fresno PD captain want standalone GPS’s outlawed as well? It’s the only way his argument makes any sense.

    I believe a simple solution is that the phone or GPS must be mounted on the windshield or dash and not in the driver’s hand. Programming shouldn’t be done while the car is moving.

    1. I agree 100% Very practical rule

    2. This. A sensible middle ground. I currently have my phone on the seat or in my hand while gps is on but I’ve had car docks for other phones and wouldn’t mind getting one of that was the law about it

    3. California and Minnesota laws do not allow mounting any device on the windshield. Only dashboard mounted devices are allowed in these two states.

  3. Good, this would have been a disaster if they had. Once in a while lawmakers do something right.

  4. Why not use the dock for Nav? There is no question on what he was doing.

  5. I’m cool with not allowing texting and all that but disallowing gps would seem a bit excessive. Kids are distracting in a car much more than a gps phone/unit. Also, not sure how they would separate gps units and a phone on a car dock for the same purpose. Let’s not go back in time and bring back real maps, those are even worse while driving lol

  6. He should of been ticketed for owning a iphone

    1. And you should HAVE taken 4th-grade English.

      1. And you should kiss my alphabet

  7. I live in Fresno. The cops do a lot of silly things out here.

    1. same here in Mass ;)

  8. here in Australia our police cars all use gps devices in their cars. the police officers while engaging in their duties are exempt under our road laws for using mobile or gps while driving. my thoughts are that if the average motorist not allowed to use a gps or mobile while driving because of loosing concentration. you would think that because the police officers are trained to drive at higher speeds the need to be more concentrated on theirs duties are more paramount.

    1. AFAIK at least here in NSW, if you are an L and P1 plater under the age of 25 you can’t use your phone for anything even if its mounted but otherwise you should be able to use your phone as a GPS provided that its mounted and you aren’t touching it.

      Edit: ok here we go, there is no specific mention of “GPS” but I assume “visual display unit” in b) is what that’s referring to.

      “300 Use of mobile phones by drivers (except holders of learner or provisional P1 licences)

      (1) The driver of a vehicle must not use a mobile phone while the vehicle is moving, or is stationary but not parked, unless:
      (a) the phone is being used to make or receive a phone call (other than a text message, video message, email or similar communication) or to perform an audio playing function and the body of the phone:
      (i) is secured in a mounting affixed to the vehicle while being so used, or
      (ii) is not secured in a mounting affixed to the vehicle and is not being held by the driver, and the use of the phone does not require the driver, at any time while using it, to press any thing on the body of the phone or to otherwise manipulate any part of the body of the phone, or
      (b) the phone is functioning as a visual display unit that is being used as a driver’s aid and the phone is secured in a mounting affixed to the vehicle, or
      (c) the vehicle is an emergency vehicle or a police vehicle, or
      (d) the driver is exempt from this rule under another law of this jurisdiction.”

  9. I always have my phone in my hand while google navigates me where to go, its not really distracting, Just set it up before moving. Also Google now will actually set everything up for you using voice. Ive been luckily ive never been pulled over and I use the Galaxy Note 3 in my hand.

  10. Come to India.. You see stu**d two wheeler drivers supporting their mobile between the ear and arm with head tilted to 90 degrees caring about nothing around them.. crazy…

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