California’s Cell Phone Driving Laws Don’t Apply to GPS

phone gpsGetting behind the wheel? The smart move is to turn off your cell phone and stay away from any other mobile devices. Like many states, California has passed laws to criminalize driving while using a device, which can impair drivers and cause accidents. But these laws aren’t all-inclusive, and while texting is strictly illegal, you may be surprised to find that GPS usage is just fine—in theory.
To understand why, it helps to recap what state law says is officially banned and what is permitted:

  • Using a handheld cell phone while driving is basically never legal. The only exceptions are to make an emergency call (though it’s safest to pull over first) or while driving on private property.
  • There is no typing any kind of text-based message while driving, whether it’s email, a text, or an IM. Unless you can’t do it hands-free, it’s illegal.
  • Drivers under 18 have it tougher. They are not allowed to use any kind of cell phone, tablet, laptop or any wireless device while driving, with or without hands. The only exception is to make an emergency call.

Given those rules, you might think that using a GPS device—unless it is completely hands-free—is illegal. And that was certainly the assumption of law enforcement. But GPS has now become an exception to the hands-free driving laws, thanks to an appeals court decision earlier this year.

Technically, that means that typing into a GPS device, including apps on your phone, to get a map or directions is legal even while driving. But even with this decision, we urge caution. Officers who see you on a phone while driving may write you a ticket anyway, leaving you to fight to get the charge dropped. And regardless of whether GPS is covered by hands-free driving laws, officers could simply use a different charge. “Distracted driving” is illegal whether the distraction is a call phone, a GPS device or a paper map. If the officer feels you were distracted, a ticket can be written.
Of course, the best reason to stay hands-free—even from GPS—isn’t the price of a ticket. It’s the fact that taking your hands or eyes away from the road endangers lives, whether it’s illegal or not.
If you or someone you love has been in an accident caused by a distracted driver, you have a right to compensation for your injuries. Call Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox to get a free consultation today.

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