THROWBACK THURSDAY: California says you can’t GPS while driving

Ah, California. It seems particularly apropos to say that California grows the most nuts of any state in the union. I mean walnuts, cashews, that sort of thing. Right? Well, decide for yourself.

Quite a while ago, I wrote this piece saying that California had made it illegal to actually operate a GPS app in your phone while driving. Since then, it has been widely reported that… people still touch their phones. It’s a purely nuisance law and while we haven’t done an exhaustive study, we’ve yet to run into anyone who actually got a ticket for doing this.

And then it got even crazier.

This wasn’t the Golden State’s only attempt at keeping people’s hands at 10 and 2.  passed a law that bans virtually all cell phone use while driving. Pretty much the only thing you can do is answer the phone using a Bluetooth device. While not explicitly stated, I imagine you could also use your phone’s voice assistant, assuming your car is smart enough to let you do that through Bluetooth. Many newer cars have a dedicated button for the voice assistant on your phone (Siri, Google Now, Cortana if you’re really hardcore) but many don’t.

Five years later…

I couldn’t find any later reference to this law. I’m sure it’s still in effect, and probably something that a highway patrol officer could use as grounds for pulling someone over. But it certainly hasn’t made any difference in anyone’s driving habits. Moreover, it’s possible that the law as written would ban a driver from using any touchscreen while driving. Since a lot of cars have built-in touchscreens for their entertainment systems, I am guessing that the strict interpretation of the law would stop you from listening to the radio while driving at all.

California has led the nation in a number of groundbreaking laws, from establishing some of the first freeways and inexpensive state colleges to creating a better environment and encouraging tech growth. This one, though… all I see is a lot of money spent on enforcement with nothing happening. I’ve personally seen a lot of people holding a phone up to their heads while driving, texting while driving, and much worse. Then again I’ve also seen people shave while driving, put on makeup, and — yes really — read books while in slow traffic. The new law doesn’t do much to address that.

When will it end?

Nuisance laws like this are based in a desire to help people be safe. But I have trouble believing that anyone ever thought these California laws were a good idea. They make zero sense in the real world. Three years from now I’ll do another Throwback Thursday article, and I’m guessing it will come on the heels of a new law that requires you to lock your phone in the trunk while driving. It just wouldn’t surprise me.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.