A judge in California’s 5th Appellate District Court has struck down a part of California’s Hands Free driving law, in defense of people using their phones for navigation purposes while driving. When you consider the absolutely deplorable state of in-car navigation and infotainment for most users, it comes as no surprise that users are unabashedly using their smartphones for maps even when its technically considered illegal. Even though there are companies working to vastly improve in-car infotainment those efforts are years down the road and won’t likely reach all consumers for years to come.
As such, people like Steven Spriggs, the man cited $165 for the incident, are forced to use their smartphones, in his case an iPhone 4. The law itself leaves mapping applications in a grey area because it specifically bans the use of texting and making phone calls, but does not call out the use of a mapping application, which technically can require some text input. While the intricacies of this law are clearly beyond the writing of this article, the truth is that people have been using maps applications in their cars since before most cars had navigation built-in. Furthermore, this law failed to address those users when they existed even though this law is actually relatively new. As such, this poorly written law has caused a lot of confusion for drivers and police officers trying to follow the rule of the law.
With this new development, there is a good chance we may see drivers claiming that they were using mapping applications rather than texting someone, which makes this law even less effective. It remains to be seen how this new development will pan out, but the good thing is that now people that got tickets for using maps on their phones are going to be able to get their tickets overturned. That is, if they can prove they were ONLY using a navigation application like Waze, Google Maps or Here Maps to the presiding judge. And since automotive development cycles are so slow, help for such a problem is not likely for the next few years at the very least. Yes, Intel and Nvidia are working with car manufacturers to improve automotive maps applications and usage scenarios, but those cars are not likely to have smartphone quality usage for a few more years. The only company right now that has a quality mapping application in their car has to be Tesla with the Model S.
Their application of Google Maps in their car makes you not want to take your phone out because of the size of the screen and the responsiveness of the application. Using maps in the Model S is not only fun and useful, but it trumps the experience of a small smartphone screen. As such, most people that own a Model S are much more likely to utilize its in-car navigation system rather than the one on their smartphone. And this, I believe, is ultimately the solution we need going forward, because it will be incredibly difficult to prove if someone was using their phone for texting or mapping based on a he said she said scenario.