Using Your Phone As A GPS Is Awesome Until You Get A Distracted Driving Ticket

Smartphone GPS apps are extremely useful tools for people who want real-time traffic information and/or you don’t want to drag around a separate GPS unit. Yet motorists should be careful: even if they’re just choosing a different route or reporting a construction zone, they can get in serious trouble for simply holding a phone in their hands.

We all know that texting and e-mailing while driving are terrible ideas, but taking selfies and video selfies while driving are even worse ideas. Yet the phone features that aim to let us engage with our phones without typing or looking down aren’t police-proof. That’s because a cop who glimpses you fiddling with your phone doesn’t know whether you’re changing your destination in a map app or sending a long, detailed text message. Holding your phone while you shout instructions to it or have a virtual assistant transcribe your text? That’s also not always okay unless you don’t even have a hand on the phone.

According to an attorney specializing in traffic violations who our colleagues over at Consumer Reports consulted, here in New York state, location of Consumerist’s global headquarters, you can get in trouble just for not having both hands on the wheel if there’s a phone next to you. Even if they aren’t being that strict, holding your phone is enough to get a fine and points on your license. Even if you aren’t looking at it or talking into it.

Even using a standalone GPS won’t keep you out of trouble. There are 28 states where it’s actually illegal to mount your GPS (or phone) on your windshield. Mounting either to the dashboard is an alternate option, but one that doesn’t keep the device in your line of sight.

When driving with GPS is against the law [Consumer Reports]

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  1. dullard8 says:

    Such is not the case in California. A California appellate court has ruled that California law prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it. The case involved a driver using a map application to find a new route. The Court of Appeal reversed a lower court finding that the driver was in violation of California law.

  2. Liberal says:

    each state is different and any cop any where can make you wish you were a better citizen if he wants to hassle you. with google maps i can start the program before i drive away and lay it next to me in the seat and never pick it up again. its just the most elegant option i have seen. recently with the traffic improvements and the lane guidance that could change and last 5 seconds from time to time and i guess that 5 seconds would be enough to cause problems. but we all look away anytime we are checking mirrors and etc. driving is dangerous.

    • SingleMaltGeek says:

      Yep, I stick my phone in my cup holder (at a sideways angle) and listen to the directions, with an occasional glance down (usually at red lights or long, empty straighaways) to check the distance to the next turn against the odometer. I really don’t need to do that last part, so if it’s busy I just listen to the voice guidance.

  3. CzarChasm says:

    I’m not sure there is a good answer here. At least not until they change some of the factors.

    If they start letting people use GPS while holding a phone, and they make it illegal for police to check your phone without a warrant, the police really have no choice but to guess at what you are doing, because everyone is going to SAY they were just using GPS.

    • furiousd says:

      I’d love to see windshield become HUDs, then with your chosen guidance application it could display in the line of sight where a turn was and give you alerts or realtime info. Of course, I’d love to see it integrated with sign recognition so when my radar detector goes off in an unfamiliar location I know what the current limit is so I can slow down if necessary.