Several recent incidents have brought up a desire to remind people that the cops are not your friends! In this one, police use speed laws to avoid the legislature’s clear intent to allow drivers to activate features.
The California Vehicle Code has two statutes regarding use of a mobile phone while driving. A ticket for either violation ends up being around $165 and it is a no-point violation, so no need to worry about traffic school or your insurance rates.
One law bans talking on the phone without a hands-free device. There is one exception, for dialing a number. That’s pretty simple to understand. Don’t do it.
The other prohibits texting while driving. Under this law, you may not write, send, or read text based communications while driving — this includes text messages, instant messages, and email. But what about apps and GPS? In People v. Spriggs, the California Court of Appeals has said that using a GPS to navigate while driving does not violate the prohibition on texting because you are not “communicating.”
Cops are sneaky!
However, cops are sneaky. In recent cases, we’ve seen situations where officers pull someone over for texting, then the driver shows the officer that s/he was using a GPS rather than texting. Instead of sending the driver on his/her merry way, we’ve seen a recent trend of officers then writing a citation for violation of California’s Basic Speed Law. Officers argue in court that the only safe speed for drivers using their devices is zero miles per hour, so by moving while manipulating the device at all, they are traveling at an unsafe speed for the conditions.
I recently saw a judge convict several motorists based on this strategy, which is a clear end-run around the Spriggs decision. The problem is that the Basic Speed Law conviction is much more expensive than a distracted driving ticket, and it comes with a DMV point on the driver’s record.
What you can do
Don’t drive distracted! Get a hands-free mount. I recommend and use an air-conditioner mount, which keeps my phone at eye level, and allows me to input a destination using one finger while keeping my eyes up – and it has the added benefit of keeping my phone cool. If you are texting while driving and you get caught, you’re better off being honest about that (or exercising your right to remain silent) and taking the distracted driving ticket, rather than trying to use the “GPS loophole” which can now end up being more expensive.