Well, not always. GPS devices are covered under distracted-driving laws. Whether you’re in compliance depends on how you use them, even how you install them. And failing to follow the rules is not only expensive in terms of tickets, points against your license, and higher insurance premiums, it can also be dangerous.
Jerry Levine, a New York City-based attorney specializing in traffic-violation cases, says the growing popularity of smart phones has kept him busy. “A lot of people think it’s okay to hold an iPhone in your hands and use it in GPS or speakerphone mode,” he said. “That’s not only illegal, but a good way to get injured or killed.”
Go hands-offWhile law specifics vary from state to state, one situation is always illegal: holding an electronic device, including a phone, while operating a motor vehicle.
If you need to make a call, send a text, or program your GPS, do it before you leave, or pull into a safe place on the side of the road. Some states, such as New York, do make allowances for medical and other 911 emergencies.
Being pulled over can open another can of worms. The police will have the right to check for other violations, such as not wearing safety belts and driving with expired insurance cards.
Mount your device properlyAccording to GPStracklog, a site devoted to the care and feeding of GPS enthusiasts, mounting your phone or PND on a windshield—including using the mount made for your device—is illegal in 28 states.
California adds the proviso that the installation not interfere with air bags. Some states are a bit vaguer than that. Minnesota statutes 169.70 and 169.72, for instance, stipulate that: “A person shall not drive or operate any motor vehicle with global positioning systems or navigation systems when mounted or located near the bottom-most portion of the windshield.”
Choose the right deviceSmart phones give you multiple options for GPS navigation apps, complete with traffic views, alternate-route suggestions, and other features to ensure a smooth trip. And their large, often-bright displays make them easy read on a sun-drenched dashboard. But phone apps use up precious data from your monthly plan to update the maps, and they may lose their way during phone calls or when you drop your cellular signal.
Heavy GPS users may want to consider a stand-alone device for GPS navigation, such as one of the recommended models from our recently updated Ratings. Most come with free lifetime map updates and traffic reporting, though the traffic data they display is often not as current or as detailed as the data you get on cell phones.
Look for models with displays of at least 4.3 inches. The larger the screen, the easier it will be to see street names and other map details. Larger displays also mean that buttons and keyboards are more convenient to use when you are entering addresses.