A new interpretation of California state law has all but outlawed any practical use of a mobile phone while driving. Steve R. Spriggs had to learn that the hard way in early 2012 after being pulled over and given a citation for improper use. Spriggs' testimony matches with that of the citing officer — he was driving and holding his cell phone in hand, not to text or engage in a voice call, but for GPS navigation purposes.
The California state code says that "A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving." Spriggs’ appeal attempt was unsuccessful, as the court interpreted this language to include GPS and cell phone maps. What does this mean for the exceedingly safe but lost drivers of the world? What else might be outlawed?
The use of GPS while driving might not qualify as a moral quandary on par with human cloning, but the explosion of smart phone mobile electronics and apps has led to new concerns about how and when these technologies should be used in our daily lives. State legislatures across the country have been clamping down on "distracted driving," a proven phenomenon, at the root of thousands of deaths each year in the United States. These laws vary widely across the country, but here are a few interesting stats:
- The first "texting while driving" ban was passed by Washington state in 2007.
- Ten states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. These are mostly primary enforcement, meaning that an officer may cite a driver for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place.
- 39 states currently ban all drivers from texting. An additional 6 states prohibit texting by "novice drivers" (<18 or intermediate license).
Public opinion polls and surveys indicate that as high as 94% of drivers consider it unacceptable for a driver to send text messages. Ad campaigns and PSAs against texting and driving are prevalent across the country. But are these laws effective? Aren’t there other equally detrimental distractions or tasks that motorists perform while driving?
Well, politicians in North Texas have proposed more expansive legislation with bigger fines if a moving driver is caught eating, interacting with a pet, interacting with a passenger, grooming, and operating the car radio or fax machine!
Some of that just sounds absurd, and I think it's equally wacky to criminalize "reasonable" distractions like checking one’s navigation program/map. This debate rages on, and the challenges will only increase as future technology affords us the luxury of receiving information and performing multiple tasks "hands free" with incredible augmented reality tech like "Google Glass" and automobile navigation information and alerts right in the windshield of our cars.