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Should California Have Banned Checking Smartphone Maps While Driving?

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the driving-in-circles dept.

Government 433

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 Or are statutes like California's hopelessly outdated?"

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433 comments

Bad Ruling (5, Insightful)

Noksagt (69097) | about a year ago | (#43395677)

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 (5, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#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.

The law does seem to be out of date, yes... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:The law does seem to be out of date, yes... (3, Funny)

buybuydandavis (644487) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Bad Ruling (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395969)

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.

Given the judge did look at non-legislation, one of you is wrong.

An ambiguity exists when words in a statute âoeare capable of beingconstrued in two different ways by reasonably well informed people.â(People v. Bostick (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 287, 295 (conc. opn. by Kline, P.J.).) âoeCourts may look to legislative history to construe astatute only when the statutory language is susceptible of more than one reasonable interpretation.â ( Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v.Public Utilities Com. (2000) 85 Cal.App.4th 86, 92.)

Re:Bad Ruling (5, Insightful)

CCarrot (1562079) | about a year ago | (#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...

Re:Bad Ruling (1)

nanoflower (1077145) | about a year ago | (#43396271)

Or it isn't your horse.

Bullshit! (1, Insightful)

Eugriped3z (1549589) | about a year ago | (#43396005)

People who use a handheld computer while driving should have their license suspended, and the circumstances should be used to determine the amount of time they spend in jail... no exceptions should be allowed, in my not-so-humble and somewhat emotionally outraged opinion. There are very few people I know who are adept at utilizing the interface to most of the Apps or other built-in functionality of a complex device like a smarphone, without error or distraction, while they are concentrating on it alone. Doing it while operating a 2-4 ton vehicle jeopardizes the lives of others. Professional drivers shouldn't be excepted either. If Fedex or UPS needs GPS routing, it should be predetermined and the relevant segment should be set before it's begun. I see people, even truck drivers, almost every day who have their little plastic digital appendage hanging off the side of their heads, oblivious to some subset of the information around them. The only reason the law isn't severe in this regard is the whim ("interests") of the industrial heads who want to enhance so-called "worker productivity." By and large we just aren't equipped to split our consciousness effectively between the complex metaphorical representations of information processing commands and the tasks inherent to safely operating a vehicle while it's moving among other vehicles and pedestrians, while also trying to discern between irrelevant commercial signage and nearby road markers and traffic signage which might be critical for the lawful operation of said vehilce. It's hard enough to write a brief description of the variables, let alone executing the tasks in a timely fashion. There's plenty of research that's be done, and we've all been directed to it from time to time. Some of the latest indicts adults [pewinternet.org] more than kids. (Not that this should surprise anyone since the distinction is arbitrary as far as brain science is concerned. [dartmouth.edu] ) Whether that direction comes from television, newspaper reporting, academic journals or news aggregators like Slashdot doesn't really matter. The courts need to be empowered to stop punish people who use lethal devices under circumstances where it's not reasonable to expect due care and consideration are possible for your fellow citizens. People need clear rules as well as swift and sure punishment when they endanger others through lack of adequate concern.

Re:Bullshit! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396219)

This is esentially it: you cant watch television and read a book at the same time, so why do people think they can look at a phone and drive at the same time?
The fact is you need two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road. If your hands and eyes are on a phone, how can you control the car, much less with your full attention?
I have no problem with people taking phones in a car. Nor with GPS, using phones as GPS, messaging people etc. Just when people are supposedly OPERATING a vehicle that can kill people do I take offense to them using the equipment irrsponsibly - doubly so if I'm the one walking in front of them. It's not that hard to pull over to the side of the road, stop the vehicle, and do what needs to be done on the phone.

Driving with a phone against your ear, texting, reading emails, setting GPS locations should all only be done when your car is parked. Is there anyone with a sane arguement against this?

Re:Bullshit! (5, Insightful)

johnlcallaway (165670) | about a year ago | (#43396227)

So .. you must then advocate that people shouldn't be allowed to change the temperature of their car then, because looking at the dash is distracting? Or change the radio? Or eat? Or even look at their odometer since they have to take their eyes off the road. Or for that matter, their mirrors???

If you claim it's OK to do those things, then please tell me what exact period of time am I allowed to turn away from the highway and look at my mirror or odometer? And if so, why can't I use that same amount of time to look at a GPS?

I can glance at my GPS on a 4 lane highway while traveling in a straight line with clear lines of sight for several hundred feet and if I'm following at a safe distance, just as I can change my radio or glance at my odometer. As the highway gets busier, or starts to curve, the need to stay more focused increases since more variables are changing or can change when I glance away. But I still glance in my mirrors if I want to change lanes, so there is still a window of time that is currently acceptable to be distracted. In fact, if I'm stopped at a stop light, there is no reason whatsoever I can't glance down and check emails since nothing is even moving, as long as I don't take too long and miss the light changing.

Conditions while driving change, and what is possible in one instance may not be in another. We constantly weigh risks while driving to determine appropriate responses. Some are better at it than others, it is not possible to come up with one rule to cover all circumstances. I have gone through a red light in full view of a police officer, because it was not safe to stop. He could see that I tried since the front of my motorcycle dipped when I braked, but I continued through because the car a few feet behind me wasn't slowing down (he slammed on his brakes just after I released mine.) The police officer didn't chase me down and give me a ticket, because I used common sense.

It is possible to make sure that if someone does not use good judgement, they are held responsible for their actions. Rules like you suggest are the same ones that get kids suspended from school because they point their fingers and say 'bang'. And, in the end, do nothing because police won't bother to enforce them anyway.

Re:Bad Ruling (2)

Noksagt (69097) | about a year ago | (#43396079)

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.

The judge then goes on to use the example of a Blackberry when considering devices that "could
not accurately be identified as 'wireless telephones'". This is laughable! We have an anti-texting statute because things like smart phones aren't phones? Well then, my map app is on a "handheld computer" and not a "wireless telephone" so 23123's prohibition on use doesn't apply to me.

The text of the ruling shows a flagrant ignorance for technology.

Re:Bad Ruling (2)

KiloByte (825081) | about a year ago | (#43396167)

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 (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#43396165)

The judge could have said this: "He wasn't using the phone -- he was using the nav system. If the legislature wanted to outlaw using nav systems, they would have."

And don't give me this letter of the law vs. intent - legislators regularly discuss intent in published records of debate, and judges ignoring that , dumbly disclaiming "letter of the law only" have been a regular, and unfortunate, way for unintended, or intended consequences or uses of the law not discussed to creep in for hundreds of years.

I reject that argument out of hand, regardless of millions of reams of supporting precedence.

Good Ruling (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about a year ago | (#43396247)

He looked at intent in the ruling. The law wasn't designed to discourage conversations in a car. It was designed to force people to keep both hands on the wheel. Holding the phone with one of your hands and pressing buttons on the touchscreen is what the law is trying to prevent.

Re:Good Ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396269)

If that was the intent of the law, why does the texting provision (written by the same senator at a later date) explicitly exempt looking in your addressbook and dialing?

Re:Bad Ruling (1)

wubti (1434011) | about a year ago | (#43396173)

So, does this mean if my Garmin GPS connects wirelessly to the cell network, that I am guilty under this law if I use it? What is the difference between turn by turn directions on my smart phone (not allowed by the ruling) vs a GPS device (Still allowed)? When is a device "an electronic wireless communications device" or not? And how will the average citizen know the difference?

Re:Bad Ruling (1)

tftp (111690) | about a year ago | (#43396193)

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.

Not necessarily. For this evidence to be proof of breaking the law all the elements of the law must be in place. For example:

  1. It must be you washing the horse, not someone else (not your neighbor, and not a diplomat from North Korea)
  2. It must be your horse that you are washing, not someone else's horse
  3. You must wash the horse, as opposed to cooling it with water or letting it walk into a stream of water from a garden sprinkler
  4. It must be exactly a horse, and not a unicorn. Ponies may or may not fall under that legislation; zebras are right out
  5. It must be your driveway, not your neighbor's driveway
  6. It must be exactly a driveway, not a walkway and not a front yard - and not a public street either
  7. The washing activity must happen over the driveway. It is not sufficient if you wash the horse on your lawn but horse's tail is casting a shadow onto the driveway.
  8. It needs to be proven that the washing did not finish by 00:00am on Sunday. The horse can remain wet for hours after that (especially if it is or was raining, as another comment says.)

Re:Bad Ruling (5, Informative)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Bad Ruling (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#43395929)

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.

Re:Bad Ruling (1)

LordVader717 (888547) | about a year ago | (#43396109)

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 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396127)

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

Because we would then have to ban talking to the live passenger right next to you.

Re:Bad Ruling (3, Interesting)

TheCarp (96830) | about a year ago | (#43396133)

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 (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Bad Ruling (4, Funny)

jxander (2605655) | about a year ago | (#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:Bad Ruling (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396081)

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.

Re:Bad Ruling (1)

pesho (843750) | about a year ago | (#43396115)

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 believe. Instead he was holding in his hand, while driving. As the Judge rightfully points out this is prohibited by California law:

" The statute prohibits driving “while using a wireless telephone,”except when the phone is “specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.” ( 23123, subd. (a), emphasis added). The term “using” is nowhere defined in the statute, but if the Legislature had intended to limit the application of the statute to “conversing” or“listening and talking,” as appellant maintains, it could have done so.".

So if you have your phone on a mount and use it as navigation aid, without operating it (as you should also do with regular GPS devices), it is perfectly fine according to California law and the current judgment has no bearing on such cases.

Re:Bad Ruling (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | about a year ago | (#43396245)

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?

Judge was an ass (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395689)

appeal

Re:Judge was an ass (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395835)

This was an appeal. That's what an "appellate court" does.

Define "use" (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year ago | (#43395691)

Stand alone sat nav units usually don't let you operate them while the car is in motion. You have to stop before the touch screen is enabled. When moving you can only passively use them, looking at the display and listening to instructions.

I didn't RTFA but if all that the court is saying is that you can't be trying to use the touch screen then that seems reasonable.

Re:Define "use" (4, Interesting)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year ago | (#43396041)

Stand alone sat nav units usually don't let you operate them while the car is in motion. You have to stop before the touch screen is enabled. When moving you can only passively use them, looking at the display and listening to instructions.

I didn't RTFA but if all that the court is saying is that you can't be trying to use the touch screen then that seems reasonable.

My Garmin GPS allows me to use it while driving.

Built-in navigation units may not, but the standalone ones generally do, even if you have to specifically enable the feature. My GPS has some features (like "What restaurants and gas stations are at the next exit" that only make sense to use while on the road.

My built-in touch-screen stereo is much harder to operate while driving than the GPS. I'd welcome a law that requires that all car controls (air conditioning, radio, etc) have tactile switches and knobs for all common functions, a touch screen is impossible to operate without looking at it.

Re:Define "use" (1)

suutar (1860506) | about a year ago | (#43396043)

the ones I've used all just have a "don't put too much attention on this while driving" screen with an "OK" button. I don't know whether that's a feature to let the passenger do stuff or slackness in not hooking the code to disable the screen if calculated MPH is nonzero (though I would tend to suspect it's a feature).

Probably spot on ruling (4, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | about a year ago | (#43395699)

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:Probably spot on ruling (2, Insightful)

bsane (148894) | about a year ago | (#43395791)

Its a good thing nobody was distracted before cell phones!

Re:Probably spot on ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395943)

It's astonishing, what with all the various gadgets enticing people's attention in the 1970s and 1980s, that it's only now become a problem.

I wonder what changed between now and then that has dramatically increased the incidence of accidents caused by driver distractions. But I suppose we needed something to make up for all mechanic and doctor billing lost after seat-belts and crackdowns on drunk drivers. Those people have mouths to feed, after all.

Re:Probably spot on ruling (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#43396051)

It's astonishing, what with all the various gadgets enticing people's attention in the 1970s and 1980s, that it's only now become a problem.

I wonder what changed between now and then that has dramatically increased the incidence of accidents caused by driver distractions. But I suppose we needed something to make up for all mechanic and doctor billing lost after seat-belts and crackdowns on drunk drivers. Those people have mouths to feed, after all.

A few things here: other than things that impaired driving (and there were appropriate laws about that back in the 70's and 80's), what we have now are roadways designed for faster speeds, and vehicles with different safety standards (mostly significantly better). However, we also have significantly more vehicles on the road, and it is significantly easier to get your license and to afford a vehicle. Link this to a culture with isolationist tendencies, and you get a situation where something that would have been relatively safe in a 70's car can be incredibly dangerous today, even with improved standards. Plus, with the improved flow of information, people actually find out about all the bad stuff that goes on now, whereas back then, the problem wasn't assumed to be as big as it actually was.

Or something like that.

Re:Probably spot on ruling (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year ago | (#43396067)

It's astonishing, what with all the various gadgets enticing people's attention in the 1970s and 1980s, that it's only now become a problem.

I wonder what changed between now and then that has dramatically increased the incidence of accidents caused by driver distractions. But I suppose we needed something to make up for all mechanic and doctor billing lost after seat-belts and crackdowns on drunk drivers. Those people have mouths to feed, after all.

You've obviously never tried to extricate an 8-track or cassette tape that's been partially eaten by the tape player while driving down the freeway if you think there was no distracting technology in the 70's and 80's. Though at least the 8-track player had only a single button and no playlist to manage.

Re:Probably spot on ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396175)

You've obviously never tried to extricate an 8-track or cassette tape that's been partially eaten by the tape player while driving down the freeway if you think there was no distracting technology in the 70's and 80's. Though at least the 8-track player had only a single button and no playlist to manage.

But to pick an album you had to physically shuffle through the cartridges laying, usually, all over the floorboard.

Re:Probably spot on ruling (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | about a year ago | (#43396129)

Was anyone ever killed by someone playing with a Rubik's Cube while driving?

Re:Probably spot on ruling (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about a year ago | (#43395965)

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?

Re:Probably spot on ruling (1)

foniksonik (573572) | about a year ago | (#43396091)

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).

Baby on Board signs = distracted driving (1)

Lashat (1041424) | about a year ago | (#43396007)

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

Re:Probably spot on ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396085)

Fatal Crashes, Drivers in Fatal Crashes, and Fatalities in Crashes, by Year

Overall
Year / Crashes / Drivers / Fatalities
2005 39,252 / 59,220 / 43,510
2006 38,648 / 57,846 / 42,708
2007 37,435 / 56,019 / 41,259
2008 34,172 / 50,416 / 37,423
2009 30,797 / 45,230 / 33,808

Caused by Distraction
Year / Crashes / Drivers / Fatalities
2005 4,026 (10%) / 4,217 (07%) / 4,472 (10%)
2006 5,245 (14%) / 5,455 (09%) / 5,836 (14%)
2007 5,329 (14%) / 5,552 (10%) / 5,917 (14%)
2008 5,307 (16%) / 5,477 (11%) / 5,838 (16%)
2009 4,898 (16%) / 5,084 (11%) / 5,474 (16%)

Source: Table 1 at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811379.pdf

Obligatory XKCD: http://xkcd.com/552/ (read hover text)

Re:Probably spot on ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395869)

But that doesn't address the question. Here [blogspot.com] is a good review of the case, which explains why the court decision was likely not the correct interpretation of the law. (As Prof. Martin points out, the defendant was pro se and probably didn't make the best arguments possible.)

It probably shouldn't be allowed to surf the Internet while driving, but it seems like that particular law doesn't actually forbid it.

Re:Probably spot on ruling (2)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#43395957)

there are dashboard mounts and bluetooth headsets to stay within the bounds of the law

you don't need a law to address every possible function of a smartphone in a car. either you can use it hands free or not

Re:Probably spot on ruling (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year ago | (#43395889)

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

Re:Probably spot on ruling (1)

nametaken (610866) | about a year ago | (#43396145)

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.

Re:Probably spot on ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395935)

How does that point speak to the validity of the judge's ruling? He's ruling on the law, not on whether or not distracted drivers are bad.

Re:Probably spot on ruling (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about a year ago | (#43396013)

How does that point speak to the validity of the judge's ruling? He's ruling on the law, not on whether or not distracted drivers are bad.

Judges may rule on the technical aspect of the law or the spirit of the law, or strike a balance somewhere in the middle. This is why they are Judges, not computer programs which spit out a binary result of TRUE or FALSE.

In this case that the driver was using a phone to view maps is giving the judge considerable leeway with regard to the technical aspect of the law.

Were the driver viewing a hand-held dedicated GPSr with maps loaded in, it would have to be more in spirit of the law. Distracted driving has plenty of statutes from state to state and there's nothing new about it. Accidents have been documented from people taking their eyes off the road to dial (DIAL) a car radio. IIRC Michigan had a statute which barred in-dash television as early as the 1970's.

Re:Probably spot on ruling (1)

Hrrrg (565259) | about a year ago | (#43396191)

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!

Perhaps. However, I suspect more crashes are caused by bored drivers who are not paying attention to what they are doing. That is probably why the number of car accidents has gone down even while cell phone ownership has gone from 0% of the population to 91%. I think it also explains why studies of cellphone use while driving predict dire consequences, and those consequences fail to materialize in the real world. You have to pay attention if you're trying to use a cellphone at the same time you are driving.

and if it was paper? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395761)

how about checking a real map?

UpDown (1)

lightknight (213164) | about a year ago | (#43395777)

Swap();

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

Re:UpDown (1)

EkriirkE (1075937) | about a year ago | (#43395941)

No. Cost, forced licensing fees. You sound like a lobbyist for Navis.

Re:UpDown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396231)

This is the logical end of the ideology that drives our government actions. Like all arbitrary mandates, the stated goal of these means has no connection to reality. Threatening theft against people who use phones while driving does not result in obedience, it simply produces a reaction. That reaction is that people no longer keep their eyes on the road facing forward with the device in front of them, now they are looking down into their lap to keep the phone out of view.

Threatening people who build vehicles into adding some technology is no different. It is the opposite of a solution. We know this is necessarily the case because of a simple bit of philosophy: an end cannot be achieved by means which contradict it. A problem in society cannot be solved through force, that merely introduces yet another problem.

What would likely happen is that this violent imposition by government would become delegated to lobbyists and other particularly invested parties who would then use the free evil of the state to serve their own ends. Any time a gun is offered as the solution to a peaceful problem, you know that evil people will be fighting tooth and nail to get their hands on it.

And in other news (4, Insightful)

azav (469988) | about a year ago | (#43395795)

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

Re:And in other news (3, Interesting)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#43396031)

Traffic laws are there to balance convenience of travel against an acceptable level of death on the road.

If banning cell phones saves a reasonable number of lives, I think most people would agree that's a fair trade off. Banning other passengers in the car though would basically be banning driving, which is not really reasonable.

Your comparison is childish:it's reasonable to say no cell phone use in the car, but not reasonable to say no passengers.

Re:And in other news (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#43396183)

It seems the vast majority of large passenger vehicles in the road never contain passengers though.

Re:And in other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396233)

The poor guy just wants feel smart by pretending he doesn't understand things that are hard to put to words, and you had to go and ruin it for him by explaining it clearly and reasonably.

Re:And in other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396069)

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

I guess if you stare at them instead of the road and feel them up with your hand while driving a car, that would certainly lead to distracted driving.

Hands Free == Dash Mount (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about a year ago | (#43395801)

If your phone is in a dash mount then that might count as hands free.

Re:Hands Free == Dash Mount (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | about a year ago | (#43395843)

not if you have your hands on it

Re:Hands Free == Dash Mount (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about a year ago | (#43396105)

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.

Re:Hands Free == Dash Mount (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396259)

Actually it's not. Messing with the phone using your hands is illegal. Siri or other voice activated systems are perfectly ok as long as you don't touch the phone.

good idea (1)

Chirs (87576) | about a year ago | (#43395827)

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.

Re:good idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395859)

That's why here where I live it is illegal to set the destination while driving.

Re:good idea (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about a year ago | (#43395911)

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.

Re:good idea (1)

jxander (2605655) | about a year ago | (#43396087)

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"

Re:good idea (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about a year ago | (#43396215)

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.

so pull over if necessary (1)

Chirs (87576) | about a year ago | (#43396135)

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.

Re:so pull over if necessary (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about a year ago | (#43396229)

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.

Re:good idea (1)

LordVader717 (888547) | about a year ago | (#43396169)

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?

Why do you question that ruling? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395829)

Just because nowadays everyone wants to use their Smartphone all the time doesn't make it safe to do so while driving a car.

Re:Why do you question that ruling? (2)

phobos512 (766371) | about a year ago | (#43395871)

How about because there's no law to use your integrated vehicle GPS, radio, talk to folks in the vehicle with you, turn around to bat at the twins fighting in the back seat, etc., all of which are just as potentially distracting? The law is very specific in what is and what is not illegal. Enforcement outside the bounds of the law is not OK. As it's already been stated, the law was felt so initially specific to only speaking on a phone that they had to add another law to ban text messaging. That speaks to the specific intent of the law, not to ban complete use of phones, but only to ban particular functions.

Re:Why do you question that ruling? (1)

optikos (1187213) | about a year ago | (#43395983)

The law is quite clear:

specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free driving

By the dictionary definitions of "hand" and "-free" and "driving":
If the smartphone's map functionality is hands-free, then permitted. If the smartphone's map functionality requires even the slightest single touch by a human "hand" while the driver is "driving", then prohibited.

Re:Why do you question that ruling? (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#43396195)

There's laws in my country to stop you batting at the twins fighting in the back seat.

All distractions while driving should be banned (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395841)

My take is that the law should become more generic and ban anything that can cause distraction while driving. Satnav, bluetooth, phones, paper-maps, "smart" car functions, anything.

I have caught my self being more distracted trying to figure out why the bluetooth is not working correct, than I would be if I was just holding the phone on my ear. And knowing how dangerous and distracting the later can be my vote is for forbidding everything that causes distraction.

$20 dashboard mount to the rescue (1)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#43395847)

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?

Re:$20 dashboard mount to the rescue (1)

farble1670 (803356) | about a year ago | (#43396055)

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.

Can we PLEASE (2)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395865)

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?

Re:Can we PLEASE (1)

pesho (843750) | about a year ago | (#43396137)

Where are my mod points when I need them. Please mod the parent up!

Offline Handheld GPS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395891)

So, using my always offline handheld Garmin GPS with the clumsy user interface is OK?

These laws already exist elsewhere (4, Interesting)

dmatos (232892) | about a year ago | (#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).

hands-free voice calls should not be allowed (1)

Chirs (87576) | about a year ago | (#43396149)

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.

Paper Map Industrial Complex (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#43395987)

I bet the paper map industry is lobbying for such bans. (Although, nobody's proven that paper maps are less distracting.)

Were his eyes on the road? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396037)

The important question is: were his eyes and his concentration mainly focused on the road ahead, or did he look away to check his smartphone?
GPS systems in cars are mounted on the dashboard (and include spoken directions) so you only need to glance very briefly at them while drive, similar to checking your rear or side mirrors. Taking a smartphone in your hand and checking then would be longer distraction, and those 2-3 seconds (instead of half a second) might be enough to cause an accident (car in front of you suddenly breaks hard; some idiot decides to cross the street cause you will slow down for him etc.)

Simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396039)

Stay out of Commiefornia. Take your dollars elsewhere and let the liberals nanny state themselves in the ground even more.

What's with all the... (1)

thestudio_bob (894258) | about a year ago | (#43396059)

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...

How about something helpful instead of Ban Ban Ban (1)

Moppusan (2837753) | about a year ago | (#43396089)

Really any distraction is bad, but absolute zero distractions is almost impossible. Our minds just aren't *that* focused all the time. OOH LOOK KITTY but what I'm tryin to say here is maybe free nation-wide turn-by-turn GPS with a soothing voice and occasional personal compliments. A calm mind can more easily focus. That, and occasional free Cadbury eggs. Ohhhh Cadbury my anti-drug.

Yes and No (4, Interesting)

mordred99 (895063) | about a year ago | (#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 live. (1)

SuperBanana (662181) | about a year ago | (#43396107)

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 least one company advertises "accident forgiveness")
  • Criminal punishment: police and prosecutors rarely even try to apply what little negligent driving statutes are available, and rarely investigate collisions unless there's serious injury or death. With the pedestrian or cyclist being carted off to the hospital or dead, it's the driver's word.
  • Injury risk: even if you hit another car, modern safety features are such that you're extremely likely to walk away unharmed from a crash you caused, particularly if you're well-off enough to afford a new-ish, expensive car; drive a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes, and you can pretty much drive like a complete asshat and unless you slam into a tree or bridge pillar at 60-80mph, you're going to be fine. Per-mile safety has improved for passengers; it's plummeted for pedestrians and cyclists. Our roads are MORE dangerous, not less.

Your text, tweet, or phone call is not worth my life. Your laziness (ie, pulling over and THEN looking at a map or phone to figure out where you are) is not worth my life. You being 4 minutes late to wherever you're going is not worth my life.

The paper map analogy is bullshit, because few people tried to read maps while driving; you pulled over, noted the cross-streets, looked them up, then figured out your next 2-3 turns. I remember being a teenager and trying it once and scaring the crap out of myself, and not trying it again...and people seriously want to argue that an INTERACTIVE map is less distracting?

European countries have by and large solved this problem by making pedestrians and cyclists protected road users; hit one, and you're presumed by police to be at-fault, instead of here in the US, where the pedestrian or cyclist is. "Innocent until proven guilty", I hear you say. I say "Don't blame the victim." They also investigate road crashes more seriously.

Re:I have a right to live. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396237)

I know how to solve the problem. Every vehicle male and model has metadata about weight, horsepower and other features that make such vehicles attractive to persons of certain backgrounds that are high-strung. Usually these originate from the Mediterranean coasts and Southwest Asia.

As for the wonders of Europe, I suggest viewing the YouTube® video titles "Why That Sport Sucks". The fellow is spot on.

Radio's remote to control Pandora on phone? (2)

whoever57 (658626) | about a year ago | (#43396131)

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?

Dumb interpretation of the law by the judge... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396139)

Based on the letter of the law, and his interpretation of "using a phone" as anything done with the device, it would seem to be illegal to use the "phone" for anything other than hands free talking while driving, including hands free automatic map functionality, since such use would certainly be "use" under this interpretation of the law, and is NOT "hands-free listening and talking" which is the only "use" exception allowed by this law... In my opinion if the device isn't being used as a telephone (i.e. on an iPhone you're not using the "Phone" app or an equivalent function") you aren't "using the phone"... You are using a device that also happens to include telephone functionality... This interpretation is completely square with the legislative history of making a distinct law to prohibit texting while driving, and this should be appealed further.

Re:Dumb interpretation of the law by the judge... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396171)

... In other words if they want to prohibit "non-hands free 'electronic device using' while driving' then they need to make a law to do it... Making a lame distinction based on whether the device is called a "phone" and/or has the capability of being used as a telephone is arbitrary and unfair (and under it I guess I just need to setup my phone to be a WiFi hotspot and use my iPod for maps while driving.)

Re:Dumb interpretation of the law by the judge... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396201)

... or just keep a charged iPod in the car and if you get caught say you were using the iPod not your phone... The cop can't tell from a distance, and this is apparently the pivotal fact on which the judge based this ruling.

Maybe they should just ban driving (1)

Freddybear (1805256) | about a year ago | (#43396143)

Because some people don't need cellphones or other distractions to be bad drivers. If it saved one life...

False Equivalence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396185)

The blogger says "[i]n the old days, the guy would have pulled out a huge paper map -- potentially blocking his view -- and been fine." "But while he can still look at a paper map, under the Appellate Division's view, if he looks at the same map on the screen of his smart phone, that's suddenly a violation."

I remember the olden says. People weren't driving around at 30+Mph with huge maps unfolded in front of their faces. That's was and is ridiculous... just as ridiculous as staring at your phone while driving.

In the "olden" days you looked at a map before you pulled out into traffic. You knew where you were going, or you wrote down turn-by-turn directions on a small piece of paper, most of which you already memorized.

The problem these days is some people hop in their car without a clue about where they're going, glancing up-and-down at the map on their phone constantly why they're in heavy traffic. They should either being doing it the "old way"--study the damn map before you begin driving--or use the audio directions all smart phones have.

As for the dash-mounted maps... those are pretty damned dangerous, too. Most people don't comprehend how long their eyes are off the road while reading those displays. Their eyes are off the road for far longer than it takes for an accident to happen.

But these people will never learn, because accidents are relatively rare, so they have no feedback to tell them that what they're doing is reckless.

He was holding the phone in his hand (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43396217)

What was not clear in the original post, was he was holding the phone in his hand while driving. (see PDF ruling)

I think that must have made the difference.

In addition, how is the cop supposed to know whether the person is using the phone as a phone or a map or whatever?

I'm ok with this ruling. I use a dash mount for my phone.

What about... (1)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about a year ago | (#43396255)

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.

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