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California judge rules anti-texting laws also ban using a phone's map while driving

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The debate over distracted driving laws has mostly focused on texting, but a California court ruling has confirmed that any cellphone use that takes a driver's hands off the wheel is fair game. Law professor Orin Kerr has uncovered a court case from late March in which the judge determined using a phone's map while driving was a violation of state law. "The primary evil sought to be avoided is the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone," writes Judge Kent Hamlin in his opinion. The driver had argued that since the phone wasn't being used for conversations, the usual anti-texting and anti-talking laws didn't apply.

"That distraction would be present whether the wireless telephone was being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails," continued Hamlin. That means if someone is taking their hands off the wheel frequently to navigate, it can be just as much of a distraction. Judge Hamlin acknowledged that the law could unfairly single out electronic devices, when using plenty of other objects "poses just as great a risk to the safety of other motorists." But that, he says, is a matter for legislators to consider; the interpretation of the law itself is clear.