GPS Systems and Distracted Driving
As electronic devices have become an integral part of our existence, it has become obvious that smartphones and driving do not go well together. There are many laws now that make it illegal to text or speak on the phone while driving. It seems fairly obvious that staring at a tiny screen and typing out a text or email, or searching for the appropriate emoji is not something that should be done while driving.
However, GPS devices and smartphones with GPS capabilities are meant to be used while in a vehicle. So if it is not okay to text your friend to ask where exactly that great taco joint is, is it alright to look it up using GPS? The answer is no, and as it turns out, GPS systems contribute to many automobile accidents every year.
How do GPS systems cause accidents?
There are hundreds of thousands of car accidents a year that are considered to have been caused by distracted driving. This category includes texting, and other smartphone usage, along with actions such as combing one's hair, but it also includes distractions due to GPS systems. In many cases, using GPS while driving is not that different from texting or emailing. A driver looking at the screen and searching for an address is not going to be looking at the road. A stand-alone GPS system likely works in a similar way, requiring addresses or destinations to be put into the system.
Additionally, GPS is not perfect. Many people have learned this the hard way, as their devices have led them to drive into lakes, onto train tracks and off of bridges. It is also possible that when attempting to drive somewhere unfamiliar with only a GPS to guide them, people sometimes panic and start messing with the system when they feel like it might be leading them the wrong way.
It is possible that GPS systems have decreased some causes of traffic accidents, since people might be more confident about where they are going, take shorter routes, and not be fumbling with maps. However, when they are not used properly, or when people believe GPS excuses them from having to pay attention to where they are going, using GPS can be dangerous.
Is it illegal to use GPS while driving?
It is not illegal to use GPS, as long as you are using it properly. While laws vary depending on what state you are driving in, most places have laws prohibiting drivers from holding electronic devices while driving. So if you have your smartphone in your hand while you are driving, whether it is to text, talk, or use GPS, you are likely violating the law.
Additionally, if you have a standalone system or a mount for your phone, be careful that it is placed in the correct location. Many states have laws against mounting GPS devices on the windshield.
And of course, program the device to your location before you leave. Do not try to type in the address or pick the best route while you are on your way.
Liability when a driver is using GPS and causes a collision
If a driver improperly uses GPS, and it leads to a collision, then that driver can be found negligent in causing the accident.
Negligence occurs when someone does not exercise caution in the way that a reasonably prudent person would. Additionally, when someone violates a safety-related law, it is possible that they will be found negligent per se, a doctrine in which proving that a defendant violated a safety statute is sufficient to establish negligence. In the case of GPS caused accidents, the driver could be found negligent through their carelessness, or negligence per se depending on the jurisdiction.
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