Hands off the smartphone map, California court tells drivers

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Mapping technology and smartphones often go hand in hand, but in California if you want to check your destination on your mobile device don’t be driving at the same time.

That’s the word from a court there that says looking at a mapping program on a phone while driving is against the law.

A driver argued that state laws regarding distracted driving pertain to talking, texting and using the Internet while on the phone, but not using a mapping program. The court disagreed.

Technically, the ruling suggests if you want to use a mapping program in California you have to do it without touching a mobile device. For a lot of people that wouldn’t be a problem. Google Maps on Android, for example, delivers stellar spoken turn-by-turn directions that you can initiate while parked.

That said, picking on mapping programs when it comes to distracted driving is bizarre, considering you don’t hear of people getting tickets for using a paper map while driving. Plus, you’d think that trying to find your destination isn’t frivolous behavior, whereas the practice of texting while driving is by and large unnecessary, not to mention hazardous.

In fact, texting while driving has been shown to be more dangerous than drunk driving, six times worse than talking on the phone while driving and implicated in numerous public transit crashes during which operators were tapping on their phones instead of watching where they were going.

Yet navigating the law when it comes to distracted driving can be tricky, depending on the state.

In Minnesota, drivers can’t write, read or send electronic messages or use the Internet, even when stopped at a traffic light. However, the law does not apply to devices “permanently affixed to the vehicle or global positioning or navigation systems.”

Fine, but think about all the connected cars rolling off the line these days—vehicles with touchscreen displays that do all sorts of smartphone-like things.

TechHive’s Evan Dashevshy recently wrote about how at the New York International Auto Show Ford shared its keynote stage with representatives from Facebook and Google , who talked about how integrated vehicles will increase social interactions and seamlessly interact with our digital lives.

As for distracted driving legislation, one thing is certain: Many drivers aren’t obeying.

According to a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any time during daylight hours 660,000 people in the U.S. are using mobile phones or other electronic devices while behind the wheel, even though most drivers know texting while driving is perilous, at least when other people do it.

The NHTSA says in 2011 more than 3,300 people died and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.

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