The Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal made a landmark decision recently that may have cemented the beginning of troubles for phone GPS apps. Recently, the ruling from the Tribunal’s Appeals Panel upheld a state fine for a man in Rhode Island who was given a ticket for looking at his phone while driving. The man claimed that he was checking his GPS, not texting.
“…Based on the plain language of the statute,” the judges wrote in their decision, “a reader may be looking at any visual display on the phone’s interface and be in violation of the statute. To hold otherwise would defeat the purpose of the statute: to prevent drivers from distractions caused by operation of a cell phone while driving.”
The judges in the appeals panel went on to say that the distracted-driving law should not allow for exemptions such as GPS: “In sum, based on the legislative history of the statute and the definitions set forth by our Legislature, we conclude that operating a cell phone for any purpose, including GPS, is prohibited by the statute.”
The ruling has received mixed reviews, and according to WPRI, the driver has appealed the decision to the District Court. As the ruling currently stands, the ban on phone GPS use has absolutely no effect on a dedicated GPS device, although there are many laws about windshield versus dash mounts, so make sure you check your local laws!
Rhode Island is far from the only state with a distracted driving law, however. In fact, at the time of writing, there are 14 states that prohibit drivers from talking on their phones in the vehicle, 46 states ban texting, and 38 states ban all cell phone use for novice drivers. However, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, there are no states which ban all cell phone use for all drivers—most of them only ban all phone use for novice drivers. However, if this ruling is upheld, it could quickly begin to change that.