California Judge: Illegal to Check Map on Phone While Driving
In a bit of news that technically came out in late March, but hasn't quite made the airwaves until recently, drivers in California are now forbidden from doing just about anything with their mobile devices while operating a motor vehicle.
Which is to say, the ol', "No, officer, I was just checking my map; I wasn't talking on the speakerphone" technique has officially fallen by the wayside. The ruling in question was written by Judge W. Kent Hamlin in the case of California v. Spriggs – which made its way to California's appellate court after the defendant, Steven Spriggs, claimed that he shouldn't have received a ticket for operating his cell phone while driving if he wasn't actually using it to talk to someone.
Hamlin disagreed, writing that California's legislation banning a driver from using a cell phone while driving is based on, "the concern about the interference with the driver's attention caused by the physical aspects of using these devices. This case requires us to determine whether using a wireless phone solely for its map application function while driving violates Vehicle Code section 23123.1 We hold that it does."
Elsewhere within his ruling, Hamlin clarified the wide-ranging scope of California's legislation.
"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," the judge wrote. "That distraction would be present whether the wireless telephone was being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails."
Feds Propose Ban on In-Car Dialing, Texting, Surfing
The Department of Transportation has proposed guidelines that would block all in-vehicle communications by a driver, including texting, dialing, Internet browsing, and even entering a GPS address by hand.
So far, the proposed guidelines would only affect in-vehicle communication systems. But DOT also held open the possibility that future restrictions would clamp down on smartphones and tablets, and even crack down on voice-activated controls.
The regulations, if imposed and enforced, could dramatically alter the future of connected vehicles within the United States, as well as how U.S. drivers use devices like GPS navigation systems and cell phones.
The department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would establish specific criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require visual or manual operation by drivers. In other words, those devices could have controls built in that could prevent them from functioning while the vehicle is in motion, or allow them to operate in a less-distracting state."
Agency Calls for Nationwide Ban on Cell Phones While Driving
Federal officials on Tuesday called for a nationwide ban on the use of personal electronic devices while driving—including talking on the phone, as well as sending and reading text messages.
The recommendation, from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), came out of a board meeting intended to evaluate an August 2010 multi-vehicle accident in Missouri caused by a distracted driver.
"More than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement. "It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving."
"No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life," she said.
The NTSB is an independent agency that investigates transportation accidents and makes recommendations on safety-related issues. It has no authority to regulate, fund, or be directly involved in the operation of any mode of transportation. A lawmaker, however, could conceivably use the agency's recommendations in crafting legislation.
In recent years, many states have passed laws that require drivers to use hands-free devices when talking and driving. Lately, the focus has shifted to texting and driving, with at least 35 states banning that practice as well, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
NTSB recommendations would take it one step further, urging drivers to focus completely on the road and not be distracted by any sort of electronic device. The agency pointed to a 2004 incident in which an experienced bus driver, distracted by a hands-free cell phone, struck the underside of a bridge, injuring 11 high school students.