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GPS and (future) law

I was a very early adopter of mobile GPS and have been using it since 2005. Yeah, it's hard to believe I've been using that technology this long.

During this time I've been keeping a close eye on the law concerning in-car navigation. There are those, albeit very few, that think GPS shouldn't be allowed in cars.


Because of the screen. The screen diverts the driver's eyes from the road and can cause a hazard.

However, the one thing GPS does that no other electronic device does in a car is assist the driver. That is GPS' saving grace.

Remember that as you read thru this.

Several states in the USA have what are called "DWT" (Driving While Talking) laws that make it illegal to use a wireless phone while driving. This is a very good law. Use of a wireless phone at any time while driving distracts the driver and is a hazard. This is undisputed.

To the best of my knowledge, anything that is considered a television screen (i.e. DVD players) is illegal to view for the driver (but not passengers) while the vehicle is in motion in all US states. Again, this is a good law because watching movies while driving is just.. bad. Saying it's hazardous doesn't even begin to describe how stupid watching a DVD while driving is.

Then there's GPS in-car navigation. It does have an animated screen. It does have buttons to push like a wireless phone.

But is it hazardous?


Why? Because it assists the driver.

However I am 100% sure in the future there will be one, and only one, law passed that specifically applies to in-car navigation.

And that law will be (in simple terms):

If the driver is operating any in-vehicle touch-screen based system while a motor vehicle is in motion, it is illegal because the driver is intentionally diverting attention from the act of driving.

In simpler terms: If the driver is touching the screen while the car is moving, that's illegal because you are looking directly at the GPS screen and not the road.

I can clearly see a law of this type will be passed and it will be on a state-to-state basis. As a nationwide law this wouldn't work, but on state level it would be enforceable.

Now a few questions answered:

Will in-car navigation ever be banned entirely in any state?

No. A ban on GPS means that wireless phones and in-car radios would also have to be banned. All require driver interaction in order to operate and to physically look at a screen (even if a radio's LCD screen). You can't ban one and not ban the others. It's all or nothing. Being that drivers would never tolerate that, it's not going to happen.

Will in-car navigation require the driver to register the device?

No, for the same reason bans wouldn't take effect. If GPS required registration, so would car radios and wireless phones. Once again, drivers wouldn't tolerate it and openly defy the law without giving it a second thought. Required registrations would be rescinded very quickly after enough people bang down the town hall door enough times.

What's the solution?

The solution is to pass a law as stated above that explicitly states the driver cannot interact with a touch-screen based system while driving.

However this is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

Is there a genuine hazard to the driver presented with in-car GPS navigation use?

No. As much as do-gooders think there is, there isn't. The use of GPS allows drivers to avoid putting themselves in harmful situations by having a guide to instruct them where to go. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, safer for the driver and passengers.

Things that do-gooders fail to realize with GPS use

1. It saves fuel

All GPS units are pre-programmed to take the quickest/shortest route unless the driver instructs otherwise - which 99% of the time they don't. This means less fuel is expended, the driver gets to his or her destination faster and it helps the environment by not wasting fuel.

2. It relieves road congestion

Every time a GPS user opts to have the unit avoid highways when taking a route, this lessens the congestion that exists on our nations highways and interstates. In fact, many GPS units come with built-in traffic avoidance options that really do work and re-route drivers easily to avoid gridlock and traffic jams.

3. It enhances driver confidence

A genuine hazard that no law can prevent is a driver that doesn't know where he or she is going. The driver's stress level is increased, anxiety sets in and can cause unwise decision-making. Having GPS navigation eliminates that entirely in one fell swoop. There is absolutely NOTHING bad about that. A prepared driver is a safe driver. This is undisputed.

4. It decreases car accidents

All GPS units tell drivers (literally) in advance when the next turn is coming up. That seemingly insignificant feature is actually very significant because it alerts the driver well in advance.

In addition, if the driver misses a turn while navigating, they don't panic if using GPS because the unit will recalculate the route and get that driver back on track. This alleviates stress and avoids panic attacks entirely.

The reality of GPS and the law

If any state decides to pass a law banning GPS, they won't get very far with it.

Would you want to be the lawmaker that tells truck fleets "Sorry, your drivers can't use GPS anymore"? No you wouldn't because you just cost all the truck fleets hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost time and wages. Not a smart move.

Would you want to be the lawmaker that requires all GPS owners to register their units with the local town office? No you wouldn't because the office would have to charge in order for anyone to use GPS service. Considering that GPS use is already free, no one would obey that law. Not a one. Bad move.

Would you want to be the lawmaker that classifies mobile in-car navigation the same as wireless phones? No you wouldn't because it would be impossible to enforce. GPS by itself cannot provide any voice communications to other humans whatsoever. What would you be enforcing? Nothing, that's what. Seriously stupid maneuver.

. . .

I'm sure some lawmakers will try - and fail - to pass laws that won't work concerning GPS save for the one example I mentioned above.

Driving laws are passed to ensure the safety of our drivers. GPS use is not a hazard. It never was and never will be.

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