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Should California Have Banned Checking Smartphone Maps While Driving? 433

Posted by samzenpus
from the driving-in-circles dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "According to an appellate court in California, checking your smartphone while driving your Volkswagen (or any other vehicle) is officially verboten. In January 2012, one Steven R. Spriggs was pulled over and cited for checking a map on his smartphone while driving. In a trial held four months later, Spriggs disputed that his action violated California's Section 23123 subdivision (a), which states that a person can't use a phone while driving unless 'that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free driving and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.' In short, he argued that the statute was limited to those functions of listening and talking—things he insisted could have been followed to the letter of the law. But the judge ruled that operating a phone for GPS, calling, texting, or whatever else was still a distraction and allowed the conviction to stand. That leads to a big question: with everything from Google Glass to cars' own dashboard screens offering visual 'distractions' like dynamic maps, can (and should) courts take a more active role in defining what people are allowed to do with technology behind the wheel? Or are statutes like California's hopelessly outdated?"
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Should California Have Banned Checking Smartphone Maps While Driving?

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  • Bad Ruling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Noksagt (69097) * on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:05PM (#43395677) Homepage

    If the judge's interpretation was the one the legislation intended, why would we have CVC 23123.5 [ca.gov], that explicitly forbids texting. Why would the DMV note that it does "not prohibit reading, selecting or entering a phone number, or name" [ca.gov] or the CHP advise safe ways to dial [ca.gov]? The judge over-stepped in this case & is legislating from the bench.

    In 2010, I was written a citation for using my phone when I had passed it to a passenger. I was (rightfully) found not guilty. Because merely "touching" your phone is not using it as a communications device. Nor is the cell phone magically more distracting than other objects in a car.

    A stand-alone GPS or a paper map can be at least as distracting, so why is there no provision banning their use? Because, while distracted driving is a problem, navigation aids do more good than harm. It is easier to defend them than eating, applying makeup, listening to music, etc. that we permit.

    • Re:Bad Ruling (Score:5, Insightful)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:28PM (#43395873)

      The judge over-stepped in this case & is legislating from the bench.

      No. The judge isn't allowed to consider those other pieces of legislation and non-legislation that you provided. The judge is only allowed to look at the relevant law, and decide whether a given set of circumstances meets that or not. In this case, the judge is not over-stepping. The law, as written, doesn't account for other uses of a phone, possibly owing to the fact that the people who wrote it didn't have the modern phone in mind when they wrote it. The law is out of date, but the judge is correct in his interpretation. You can't blame the judge for this: It's on your elected representatives (you did vote, right?) to keep the laws current and relevant. The judge is only there to apply those laws, not question their sanity, relevance, or modernity. Remember, there's still laws on the book about horses on the freeway... even though a horse can't run as fast as the minimum posted speed. But should such a horse ever spawn, there are laws to cover it.

      Because, while distracted driving is a problem, navigation aids do more good than harm. It is easier to defend them than eating, applying makeup, listening to music, etc. that we permit.

      Here again you're trying to talk about the merits and drawbacks of the law using comparisons. The judge wasn't allowed that luxury. The judge can only consider the law and the legislative intent in making the law (within some parameters). If the law says you can't wash your horse in your driveway on sundays, it may be a stupid law, but if the police find a wet horse in your driveway, you still broke it.

      • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:34PM (#43395939)

        The law is out of date

        Apparently so. Given the overwhelming evidence that many of the activities mentioned in this thread do dramatically increase the risk of having an accident, it appears that a lot more things should be prohibited than actually are.

        • by buybuydandavis (644487) on Monday April 08, 2013 @06:12PM (#43396257)

          Apparently so. Given the overwhelming evidence that many of the activities mentioned in this thread do dramatically increase the risk of having an accident, it appears that a lot more things should be prohibited than actually are.

          Let's ban driving. That'll decrease car accident risk.

          • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Monday April 08, 2013 @06:26PM (#43396349)

            Let's ban driving. That'll decrease car accident risk.

            There's always someone who says that. And then there's usually someone else who says, "But children are far more distracting than calling/texting/browsing Facebook while I'm driving!"

            Both claims are correct, and both are irrelevant.

            There are good reasons to allow driving in the first place, even though it carries risks. The total cost to society from banning driving would be horrendous.

            However, there really aren't a lot of good reasons to accept people doing things while driving that increase the inherent risk several times over. If you passed your test, you know how to pull over somewhere safe for maybe 20 seconds to check a map or reconfigure your sat-nav, and you really ought to know how dangerous it is to unnecessarily take your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, or your mind off your driving. The fact that some people can pass their test apparently without knowing these things is why sometimes laws are needed to correct that oversight by revoking their licence.

            • If you passed your test, you know how to pull over somewhere safe for maybe 20 seconds to check a map or reconfigure your sat-nav, and you really ought to know how dangerous it is to unnecessarily take your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, or your mind off your driving.

              So, by that logic, we should ban car stereos since they encourage people to take their eyes off the road and their mind off driving. And we would also have to ban GPS units since that map they show can only be seen if you look at it. If you ban GPS units, then people will use paper based maps they printed from online map services. This is far more dangerous than using your phone. Also, if you deprive people of good maps they will drive farther to get to their destination, which has a number of harms to

              • So, by that logic, we should ban car stereos since they encourage people to take their eyes off the road and their mind off driving.

                Messing around with the stereo while you should be driving is dangerous and does cause accidents.

                Banning stereos seems excessive, as there is little evidence that they create the same kind of distraction effect as talking on a mobile phone. However, requiring that car stereos must have easily accessible controls that can be operated by touch alone would probably be a reasonable step.

                Better yet, there are both wheel-mounted controls and voice command systems today that can do things like changing the channe

          • Let's ban driving. That'll decrease car accident risk.

            Holy straw man argument, Batman!

          • screaming young kids in the back seat are more of a safety issue and distraction.

            you gonna touch that third rail?

            well, are you interested in safety or not?

            answer the question!

        • by Smallpond (221300)

          The law is out of date

          Apparently so. Given the overwhelming evidence that many of the activities mentioned in this thread do dramatically increase the risk of having an accident, it appears that a lot more things should be prohibited than actually are.

          If we should ban looking at a map, maybe we need to ban street signs also, since reading those distracts you from driving.

          • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Monday April 08, 2013 @11:50PM (#43398281)

            If we should ban looking at a map, maybe we need to ban street signs also, since reading those distracts you from driving.

            Actually, while I suspect you were being facetious, there is a real point there. Excessive street furniture and signage is now well known to increase the risk of accidents. As a result, highway planning authorities in various countries have been increasingly interested in this issue in recent years, and we're starting to see official guidelines explicitly consider the problem of street clutter and advocate reducing signage and prioritising essential information only.

            However, the situations of using an electronic map vs. reading a road sign are not directly comparable. Most road signs give information that you act on immediately. By their nature, road signs also don't tend to take your eyes completely off the road ahead, and certainly not for several seconds.

      • Re:Bad Ruling (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CCarrot (1562079) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:41PM (#43396003)

        If the law says you can't wash your horse in your driveway on sundays, it may be a stupid law, but if the police find a wet horse in your driveway, you still broke it.

        Unless it's raining...

        • Or it isn't your horse.
        • It was raining. Uh huh. Heard it before "I wasn't washing my horse, it just rained." Sure, fella.

          If the police notice that your horse is wet, you're guilty. Guilty guilty guilty. But if you rat on your neighbor, maybe they'll go easy on you. Does he smoke pot? You better hope so.

      • by Noksagt (69097) *

        No. The judge isn't allowed to consider those other pieces of legislation and non-legislation that you provided.

        Not only can he, but he did. See pages 5-6 of the ruling, where the judges state (among other things):

        Section 23123 applies only to use of a “wireless telephone” while
        driving. Section 23123.5 more broadly applies to use of an “electronic wireless communications device,” which would include a cellphone, but would also apply to other wireless devices used for communication.

        T

        • by KiloByte (825081)

          Also, how exactly does using a pre-downloaded map on a smartphone differ from using the same map on a dedicated device?

          Now change pre-downloaded map to one pulled live from OSM or Google. What's the difference?

          I quite fail to see any point in looking at what else the device in question can do. If it's a map, it's a map -- it doesn't matter if it's on paper or AMOLED.

      • Re:Bad Ruling (Score:5, Informative)

        by Obfuscant (592200) on Monday April 08, 2013 @06:07PM (#43396205)

        The judge is only allowed to look at the relevant law, and decide whether a given set of circumstances meets that or not. In this case, the judge is not over-stepping.

        Did you actually read the law? Here's the primary prohibitive statement from that law:

        23123.5. (a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based ( )1 communication, ...

        Was the defendant using a device to write, send or read a text-based communication? No. Therefore, he cannot be guilty of violation of this section of the law. Period. End of consideration.

        But he was doing something with text, right? Here's the relevant definition of "text-based communication":

        (b) As used in this section "write, send, or read a text-based communication" means using an electronic wireless communications device to manually communicate with any person ...

        Was he communicating with a person? No. He does not meet the definition of "text-based communication". Not guilty.

        The law, as written, doesn't account for other uses of a phone, possibly owing to the fact that the people who wrote it didn't have the modern phone in mind when they wrote it. The law is out of date,

        Now I know you didn't read the law. It was amended effective Jan. 1, 2013. That's three months ago, plus a few days. That's what you call "out of date"? You don't think they had "modern phones" four months ago? Maybe 12 months when they wrote the law or the amendments? I know, it is California, but I think they have reasonably modern technology available there. After all, we're talking about someone using a GPS in a phone, in California.

        The judge is only there to apply those laws, not question their sanity, relevance, or modernity.

        The law clearly covers text-based communication. This person did not perform text-based communication. When a judge says "well, text-based communication is against the law because it is distracting, and using a GPS is distracting too, so this law clearly covers using a GPS..." he's flat out wrong. He's writing law, not interpreting it. The legislature could easily have amended this law last year to include all kinds of things AND CHOSE NOT TO. And clearly the goal was not to keep everyone from touching a phone while driving, since the law allows touching the phone while driving.

    • While you're at it, talking on a handsfree set hasn't proven any safer. [womenshealthmag.com] so why are we specifically allowing it?

      A bit like saying you can't consume any vodka before driving, but it's perfectly legal to be drunk off light beer while driving.
      • What a load of bullshit. All the link says is that having a conversaton on a handsfree set still impedes driving. Nowhere does it say it's as dangerous as driving one-hand on the wheel or looking at the keypad of your screen.

      • Re:Bad Ruling (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@nospAm.carpanet.net> on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:57PM (#43396133) Homepage

        A better question is.... if people who get in accidents while using cell phones don't get in less without them... (http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/08/why-cell-phone-bans-dont-work.html )

        Its not that drivers using cell phones drive badly.... its self selection.... bad drivers use cell phones more (and still drive terribly without them)

        Why are we going after fiddly individual behaviors like using a phone or texting etc?

    • Re:Bad Ruling (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:34PM (#43395933)

      It might help to read the decision, http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/JAD13-02.PDF

      The court closely analyzes the legislative intent.

    • by jxander (2605655) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:46PM (#43396045)
      I agree, terrible ruling. Now if you'll excuse me, my Thomas Brothers guide says that this street is on paage ... 637 ... grid square ... umm F3, and I'm headed to pag***CARRIER LOST***
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't know about you but I have to stop by the side of the road to use a map or road atlas as anything else is just plain suicidal. Or I don't read the map right, make wrong turns and get lost. The time taken to stop and properly consult a map or road atlas is time well spent.

    • by pesho (843750)

      The judge over-stepped in this case & is legislating from the bench.

      No he did not. What he said was: “Our review of the statute’s plain language leads us to conclude that the primary evil sought to be avoided is the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone,” and “because it is undisputed that the appellant used his wireless telephone while holding it in his hand as he drove his vehicle,”. So the person who got convicted was not merely using the phone as navigation aid, as the article would like you to bel

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      Is there some legal principle that a narrowly defined law necessarily redefines a more broadly defined law it may seem to overlap?

      No? Then from what hole are you pulling your legal opinion?

    • by rnturn (11092)

      ``Because, while distracted driving is a problem, navigation aids do more good than harm. It is easier to defend them than eating, applying makeup, listening to music, etc. that we permit.''

      Does that map aid in your ability to safely drive your car? And don't try to claim that not getting lost or missing a turn is unsafe and that your cellphone map is helping you to be safe.

      Any navigation aid that requires that you take your eyes off the road while the car is moving should be covered by the law (Even tho

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:07PM (#43395699) Homepage Journal

    Distracted drivers - you've seen them. Possibly you've been hit by them. They look away from the road, even for a couple seconds and BAM!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bsane (148894)

      Its a good thing nobody was distracted before cell phones!

      • So because some bad things happened before, we should just ignore entirely avoidable bad things that have become possible with the introduction of new technologies?

        • So because some bad things happened before, we should just ignore entirely avoidable bad things that have become possible with the introduction of new technologies?

          The law is unnecessary to begin with. It's only there to make writing tickets easier. We have laws about reckless driving which fully cover any and all distractions, but they require an officer to show up and testify that the behavior was reckless. Much more he said / she said. So they added a quick buck law that is black and white (supposedly).

          • I used to have a similar view: there ought to be only a handful of traffic laws, covering general offences like driving dangerously or inconsiderately, and it ought to be up to a court to consider each case on its merits.

            The thing that convinced me otherwise was the reaction to our mobile phone law in the UK, which basically prohibits handheld but not hands-free phone use while driving. I've seen way too many arrogant people, many of them young and inexperienced drivers who are at higher risk of having an a

      • Driving with a toddler or baby in the car is 10x more distracting than my cell phone map.

    • Distraction technology has advanced faster than the skill of drivers to deal with all of it at the same time.

      • by nametaken (610866)

        So have our cars. Now we rely on the ridiculous capabilities and crazy-effective safety mechanisms built into them.

        This manifests as everyone driving like a fucking moron.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      It doesn't have to be an electric device. Looking at a paper map is just as distracting as a screen. I would hope that troopers would pull someone over for reading a map while driving, careless driving is an offense in most jurisdictions. If you don't know where you're going, pull off at the next exit.

  • Swap();

    Why not just mandate that all cars have built-in GPS units? As well, as Bluetooth pairing for phones.

  • And in other news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by azav (469988) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:17PM (#43395795) Homepage Journal

    operating a vehicle containing children, parents or a girlfriend constitutes distracted driving.

  • If your phone is in a dash mount then that might count as hands free.
    • not if you have your hands on it

      • appellant was cited for looking at a map on his cellular phone while holding the phone in his hand.

        If your phone is mounted on a dash like a GPS and a GPS app is running then no cop is going to pull you over for glancing at it.

        The first is the physical distraction a motorist encounters when either picking up the phone, punching the number keypad, holding the phone up to his or her ear to converse, or pushing a button to end a call. It is this type of distraction that is addressed by this bill.

        So using GPS Navigate on your phone is ok as long as you entered the destination while parked. Messing with the phone while in motion is illegal.

  • There is lots of evidence that talking on the phone (even handsfree) is very distracting. There is also evidence that operating a GPS unit is distracting...I remember a documentary where they showed people taking their eyes off the road for many seconds at a time while trying to set a destination on a GPS unit.

    My reading of the law is that it implies that the phone must be used handsfree, even if he's not talking or texting.

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      There is also evidence that operating a GPS unit is distracting

      It's even more distracting trying to read a map and drive at the same time. If you don't know where you are, it's one or the other.

      • by jxander (2605655)

        It's even more distracting trying to read a map and drive at the same time. If you don't know where you are, it's one or the other.

        "Honey, just pull over and ask for directions"

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Directions don't work. Random people can't give you accurate turn-by-turn directions orally. I remember trying this when I was young and giving up in frustration after too many sets of bad directions.

      • I have no problem with following voice directions from a GPS or requesting directions via voice recognition.

        Glancing at a map (electronic or paper) on a dash-mounted holder is probably okay.

        Looking at a map (electronic or paper) on the passenger seat is getting iffy.

        I have a problem with typing in a destination on a GPS while driving, or flipping through a map book trying to find the right page. If you need to do that, pull over and get off the road first.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          That makes perfect sense, but I have little doubt that the authorities will still prosecute people for simply using GPS as it can be construed as being against the letter of this stupid law.

    • That's why GPS units specifically advise you not to pull over to set a destination. Sheesh do people really need someone to tell them they'r being distracted?

    • Some years ago an insurance company mounted cameras in cars to monitor the drivers habits while driving leading to a lot of video footage leading up to accidents. They found that an accident happened when the driver was distracted and not looking at the road for (on average) 2 seconds. That's it, 2 seconds of not looking where they were going then WHAM! The distractions were fumbling for something dropped, like a lit cigarette or a compact disc, tuning the radio, engaged in a phone conversation, etc.

      The b

  • i have even though i rarely use my phone other than to listen to music in my car
    with voice turn by turn navigation why even check the map on your phone yourself?

    • i have even though i rarely use my phone other than to listen to music in my car
      with voice turn by turn navigation why even check the map on your phone yourself?

      you think a dash mount is going to save your butt? dash mount is fine as long as you don't touch it in transit. if you allow even minor touching, the entire law gets thrown out the window because it becomes unenforceable if you require law enforcement to time how long you are distracted.

      as for why even check the map? maybe you need to revise the address? set a new waypoint, such as for coffee or fuel?

      also, while you are listening to music, i hope you don't adjust the volume or skip songs, or pause.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    just DRIVE when driving? Honestly, it's already cramped out there, driving is a dangerous activity, can we, just for the sake of making a habit of it, JUST DRIVE the damn things, WITHOUT fidgeting around with phones, stereos, bluetooths, coffee cups, navigation systems and whatever the hell other distractions there are?

  • by dmatos (232892) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:36PM (#43395949)

    Several Canadian provinces (including Ontario) have "distracted driving" laws that basically state "no fucking around with electronic devices unless they're mounted to your vehicle somewhere."

    If you have to hold your phone to look at Google Maps, and/or enter information into it, that's verboten. If you enter your destination before you start driving, and then mount it on your dashboard or windscreen, that's okay.

    I like this distinction, and think it is a reasonable restriction on the use of electronic devices while driving. Note - hands-free phone operation is still allowed. Texting is pretty much right out (as it should be).

    • There's lots of evidence that they're not really any safer than handheld calls.

      Incidentally, many modern smartphones allow hands-free texting using voice recognition.

      • by dkf (304284)

        There's lots of evidence that they're not really any safer than handheld calls.

        Incidentally, many modern smartphones allow hands-free texting using voice recognition.

        You've got to balance ability to enforce as well. Banning things that you can't prove are happening (or at least not without disproportionate effort) is a way to bring the law into disrepute. Not that this stops some legislators. In any case, there's also a general "don't drive distracted" rule too; it's more difficult to prove, which is why other laws like the anti-texting ones are also present, but it is the real rule that people want enforced. After all, a moving car has a lot of momentum and kinetic ene

  • What's with all the articles asking me questions, lately?

    I got an idea, why don't you form an opinion on an article and then post that in your summary so I can take the opposite position an attack you with witty comments. Sheesh. Slashdot sure has changed...

  • Yes and No (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mordred99 (895063) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:52PM (#43396095)

    "Should California Have Banned Checking Smartphone Maps While Driving?"

    This is not a simple question. There is a preponderance of evidence that checking a cell phone, playing with a dash mounted (or cheesy suction cup mounted) GPS, eating, talking, doing makeup, shaving, or anything that takes the drivers eyes off the road is a distraction. Anything that makes for more distracted drivers in my opinion should be banned.

    However I am also a Libertarian, and I agree that the government should not be getting into these nitpicky arguments, and should be left to the people and free market to decide. I personally will never pay for the option of having an in dash navigation in a car. Nor will I purchase an external GPS. I pull off to the side of the road, and use my street atlas and figure how to get anywhere. Why is this the case? Simple, I don't want to be distracted from driving.

    At the end of the day, because California is so socialist, and anyone who chooses to live there wants to live in the Nanny state, then let them live in their own spoils. I just keep being being reminded of the quote, "You cannot legislate stupidity, as there will always be a more stupid idiot created tomorrow."

  • I have a right to use the road as a pedestrian or cyclist.

    You do not have a right to endanger me or anyone else by looking at your cell phone while piloting 2-3 tons of metal.

    Driving is a responsibility nobody seems to take seriously, and it's no great surprise.

    • Societal attitudes: people still call them "accidents", even though they're almost always everything but; nearly every crash is the result of driver error.
    • Financial risk: Insurance companies essentially nullify most of the financial risk (and at leas
  • by whoever57 (658626) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:57PM (#43396131) Journal
    If I stream Pandora (or music on the device) from my phone to my car's radio and I use the car radio's remote control to skip tracks, increate or decrease volume etc., where does this law put me?
  • Because some people don't need cellphones or other distractions to be bad drivers. If it saved one life...

  • What if you mount it to the windshield and use it as and like a GPS device?

    It essentially *is* a GPS device in this case, though I would hardly be shocked to find that courts and LEOs are too technologically unsophisticated to understand this simile.

  • It has been that way since the dawn of times. 13 years ago two of my buddies bought luxury SUVs, one of them got it with GPS that would not even allow you to touch itself unless you turn off your vehicle. The other one got GPS that could not care less.

    This is going one of those laws that nobody follows and hard to enforce...

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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