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Western state sets a controversial driver distraction precedent

In the land of electric vehicles and honey, aka the nation's most populous state, California, controversy is brewing over distracted driving.

The Appellate Division Superior Court for the County of Fresno, Calif. made a controversial driver distraction ruling [PDF] this week, when it stiffened its ban on in-car smartphone use, banning motorists from looking at maps on their mobile devices while driving.

California, like most states allows motorists to consult paper-maps while driving -- a distraction that's considered dangerous, but at times necessary to motorists.  However, the exact same act on the a mobile device -- which arguably take less finger dexterity -- is verboten.

Distracted driving
This is okay, but using your smartphone is not. [Image Source: Petersen's 4 Wheel]

To be fair, the presiding Judge F. Brian Alvarez acknowledges that this cognitive dissonance between non-digital and digital uses exists in his ruling.  However, he says that the 2008 law passed by California's state legislature and the follow-up 2012 hands-free bill are explicit -- no manual interaction with digital devices of any kind can be performed while driving.

He suggests that the Californian legislature review the issue and possibly modify the law.

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The decision isn't entirely catastrophic to motorists; barring reversal from the legislature, the ruling still leaves drivers with some legal options.  Drivers can use hands free smartphone navigation software (which many phones now come with), although interacting with the device other than by voice is strictly illegal.  California also allows automated self-driving cars, although they are not yet widely commercially available.

And of course there's one other option for California's motorists -- a good old-fashioned map.

Source: The Appelate Division Superior Court for the County of Fresno, Calif.

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sounds fair
By raddude9 on 4/8/2013 2:09:46 PM , Rating: -1
I agree with this one. There's a big difference between touching a paper map and touching a smart device like a GPS or a phone. When you touch a GPS you interact with it and you wait to the see visual results of that touch. Paper maps are completely passive no amount of touching will change that.

To me it's like the difference between using a computer and watching a tv. Tv's have limited interaction but computers require more concentration.

RE: sounds fair
By mm2587 on 4/8/2013 2:17:40 PM , Rating: 2
you have certainly never tried to read a paper map while driving then. It is much more difficult to read and follow a paper map then most modern GPS/navigation devices.

RE: sounds fair
By raddude9 on 4/8/13, Rating: 0
RE: sounds fair
By BRB29 on 4/8/2013 2:25:13 PM , Rating: 2
obviously you are really old or do not know how to efficiently use google navigation on a smartphone.

This is how easy it is.
tap nav app
choose voice then say "Pentagon City Mall"
phone creates best route depending on setting
I follow route

The only other time I touch it is to zoom out to check traffic ahead. If traffic is bad, it is literally 3 taps or less to reroute. Or you can just turn and the map auto reroute.

In fact, the navigation system is so easy and convenient to use that even my mom who's 60 knows how to use it.

The last time I used paper map, I have to constantly stop. With the road system being stupid complex now along with constant construction, I can't see why that is ever a good idea over a digital map that updates every day if it needs to.

RE: sounds fair
By Argon18 on 4/8/2013 3:27:23 PM , Rating: 3
P-city mall?? Do you live in Arlington, VA? ME TOO! HIGH FIVE!

RE: sounds fair
By raddude9 on 4/8/2013 7:33:56 PM , Rating: 2
Nope, not really old, I just don't use maps or GPS, my sense of direction is just that good. I don't think people should be using maps or gps while driving, people are bad enough drivers as it is.

RE: sounds fair
By Reclaimer77 on 4/8/2013 10:23:16 PM , Rating: 1
Having a good "sense of direction" means jack shit if you have no idea where you're at or where you're going.

Seriously come on, I have a good sense of direction too, but I'm not going to sit here and boast I know ever road, every street, every place in the entire country by heart!

RE: sounds fair
By BRB29 on 4/9/2013 7:46:59 AM , Rating: 2
sounds like you've never lived in a big city. You've never have to idle for hours in traffic because you did not take that detour since you don't know traffic ahead. You've never lived in a city where there's more roads and constant constructions than any human brain can remember.

So you think that a GPS nav device that can get people to where they need to be is bad in a city where traffic is terrible? You would think that getting people there and off the road to relieve traffic congestion is a good idea. I would also think that having my phone tell me when to turn and having a glance at my interactive map is much safer than someone sitting in the passenger seat guessing where I am and telling me inaccurate info. I KNOW it's definitely better than me trying to drive and read a huge map in lap.

RE: sounds fair
By Nutzo on 4/9/2013 2:34:33 PM , Rating: 2
And if you get caught doing any of that, even if sitting stopped at a light, you will get a ticket.

However, you can eat lunch, comb your hair, read a newspaper, turn around an yell at the kids, etc. and you don't have to worry.

RE: sounds fair
By Solandri on 4/8/2013 2:28:02 PM , Rating: 3
I disagree. The GPS tracks my current location. I don't have to look for it, it's already there. I only touch the GPS for things like checking traffic, or if I want to see driving stats.

It's actually the paper map which requires more of my attention, since I have to figure out where on the map I'm at. So your analogy is backwards - the paper map is more like the computer, requiring my constant attention in order for me to use it. While the GPS is like the TV which just displays stuff with me occasionally changing channels.

The only time the GPS requires more attention is if you're programming in or searching for a new destination. Ideally that's done before you start driving. But with my Android phone it's just a long-press of the search button and me saying "navigate to blah blah blah". Which is actually less distracting than searching for new destination on a paper map and plotting driving directions in my head.

RE: sounds fair
By Argon18 on 4/8/2013 3:25:37 PM , Rating: 1
I agree as well, a device you have to look at to interact with is more of a distraction than a piece of paper. That said, you should never take your eyes off the road. Someone attempting to drive while looking at a paper map, is just as much of an idiot as the guy who is texting or using a touch-screen GPS map.

This brings to light another related issue, the controls for the car, GPS, phone, or any electronic device you use while driving (or cycling, or anything really). This recent movement away from physical switches, knobs, and buttons, to a touchscreen.

The problem with a touch screen, is that it requires you to look at it, in order to operate it. Not just a casual glance either, you have to really look at it and focus your attention. That's fine when you're sitting on your living room couch with the iPad, but it's potential disaster while driving on the road. The tactile feedback of buttons, switches, and knobs, allows you to actuate them without looking - you can feel with your fingers that you've got the right one, and you can feel the selection as you actuate it. No need to look.

Of course a touchscreen has more geek electronic tech appeal, so expect to see more of them, even at the expense of your (and my) safety.

RE: sounds fair
By MrBungle123 on 4/8/2013 7:24:27 PM , Rating: 2
so some paper atlas that covers up most of the dashboard controls for the vehicle and requires you to look down is better than a GPS unit on the dash that will still let you track the road with peripheral vision and doesn't obstruct things like the steering wheel and gear shifter is more dangerous?

RE: sounds fair
By Nfarce on 4/8/2013 7:34:28 PM , Rating: 2
Just call it California politician logic. They are all a little "off" out there when it comes to common sense and logical thinking.

RE: sounds fair
By DalisMoustache on 4/9/2013 1:05:14 AM , Rating: 1
This article strikes me as MAAN for a variety of reasons. And I'm not too surprised your post was downrated despite being largely correct.
As I understand it people who use GPS are typically less effective at route-finding and spatial recognition versus more traditional means:
People who use GPS devices will typically be less skilled at the general task of wayfinding and navigation. This means their with-GPS versus without-GPS experiences will probably have significantly different outcomes, challenges, and stresses thus reinforcing their pro-GPS bias.
Add to that this article and your post challenging that learned and reinforced GPS bias. A typical reaction will then be to judge first (downrate) and rationalize afterwards.
People, your heuristics are failing you.
Specifically to Reclaimer77, it's called looking at a map before you go. It's not some eldritch wiccan thing.

RE: sounds fair
By Rukkian on 4/9/2013 11:31:06 AM , Rating: 2
So maybe you have a photgraphic memory, but when I have to get somewhere 100 miles away on some backroad in the middle of nowhere, there is no way I can look at a map one time before I leave my house and know every turn I have to make. This is just one example.

If you know your area and know basically where you have to get to, then sure looking at a map once before you leave can work. If you are going somewhere in an area you have never been, it is not very efficient to try and wing it.

RE: sounds fair
By Nutzo on 4/9/2013 2:42:04 PM , Rating: 2
You basically describe me vs the wife.

I have a good sense of direction and rarely use GPS, unless I'm going somewhere I haven't been before. If it's somewhere local, I'll just look it up on Google maps and remember the basic route/cross streets, no need for GPS.

On the other hand, my wife uses her GPS all the time, even when going to places she has been to many times. She has a poor sense of direction and would be lost without her GPS.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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