Do GPS Devices Constitute a Violation of Distracted Driving Laws?


September 22, 2014

Most motorists know that using their cell phone while driving can result in a traffic ticket, they might be less aware that their use of a GPS device also might run afoul of distracted driving laws in some states.  Whether you get your GPS data from a cell phone or a stand-alone navigation device, certain uses of GPS devices can constitute distracted driving.  A recent story in Consumer Reports discussed the applicability of distracted driving restrictions to GPS devices in all fifty states.

Georgia law prohibits drivers from using a wireless communication device for writing, sending or receiving text message while operating a motor vehicle.  While the law is clear that texting and driving is illegal, entering information into a GPS device while driving constitutes a grey area.  There is little question that typing an address into a GPS device is just as dangerous as typing in and sending a text message, so it is possible that a police officer might issue a ticket for using a GPS.  Regardless of the legality of using a GPS under Georgia’s distracted driving law, drivers who attempt to program their phone or stand-alone navigation system while moving take a serious risk. 

Other states have begun to address the applicability of their distracted driving statutes to navigation systems.  A California court had found that use of a handheld smart phone for navigation constituted a violation of the state’s ban on handheld use of cell phones when driving.  However, this decision was overturned on appeal earlier this year.  A report by the San Jose Mercury News indicated the decision was the first ever case holding that motorists could use their smartphones in this situation without risking a hands-free cell phone ticket.  However, the appellate court’s decision was based on its interpretation of the intent of the state’s legislature not to include GPS devices, so courts in other states might well reach a different conclusion.

There are other ways that a GPS device can result in a motorist receiving a traffic ticket.  Many states prohibit mounting a GPS on the windshield of a vehicle, or they impose specific requirements about the location of a window mounted GPS.  These laws are designed to discourage drivers from mounting items on their windshield that might obstruct their vision or cause a distraction. 

The Consumer Reports article offered some suggestions for drivers who insist on using GPS devices:

  • Mount the device even if it is a cell phone
  • Use a mount on the dashboard or some other location rather than the windshield
  • Program the GPS before leaving home not while the vehicle is moving
  • Pull over to enter a new destination or other information into the GPS
  • Use turn by turn navigation rather than a GPS that requires looking at the screen for directions

While it is still too soon to know how courts and lawmakers in most states will respond to distractions caused by navigation systems, federal lawmakers are already promoting rules for use of “infotainment systems” installed by manufacturers, which include navigation systems.  In the meantime, drivers need to be aware that GPS devices can be as distracting as they are convenient.  If a driver is involved in a collision because he runs a red light or rear-ends another vehicle while distracted by a GPS, this would constitute negligent driving regardless of whether GPS use falls under a state’s distracted driving laws.

Put Our Law Firm's Over 30 Years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Case

If you or a close family member is injured in a collision caused by a distracted driver, our experienced Alpharetta auto accident attorneys might be able to help.  Montlick and Associates has been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state.  No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333).  You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat. 

Category: Auto Accidents

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