Georgia cop tickets drivers for using Google Maps, but not Garmin

Apparently it's illegal to use a GPS navigation app on a smartphone while driving, but it's legal to use a GPS device like a Tom Tom or a Garmin.

Georgia's Channel 2 Action News had quite the scoop last week, reporting that "one Gwinnett County police officer has given more tickets for texting and driving than any other officer in the state." So the news station followed up with an interview with Officer Jessie Myers, who has issued nearly 800 citations for "unlawful communications device" use so far in 2013, and says he'll easily reach the 1,000 ticket milestone by the end of the year.

The key, for Officer Myers, is to get people when they think they're safe. Most of the tickets he's written have been for people who use their phones while sitting at a red light.

"Most people think they're safe there," the police officer told Channel 2 Action News.

But they're not, apparently. If they're using a cellphone while behind the wheel of a car that is in drive, they're breaking the law, Myers says. That's all fine and good - people die as a result of texting and driving, and the law needs to be enforced, of course.

The interesting part of all this comes when Officer Myers clarifies which devices are legal to use in a car and which aren't.

"You can't use your navigation while driving. Unless it is a GPS-only device, such as Garmin or Tom Tom, something that is not used as a communication device," Myers said in the interview.

So you can't use a Google Maps app to find where you're going, but you can use a Garmin or Tom Tom? What an arbitrary distinction.

I went on a long road trip two weeks ago from Connecticut to Maryland. I was driving with my mother to meet some family, and my mother keeps an outdated Garmin in her center console. When my iPhone's battery died about an hour short of our destination, we had to switch to the Garmin. The Garmin wasn't the newest model, so its UI was a little bit outdated. It took me roughly three minutes (from the perfectly legal passenger seat) to type in the new address and figure out where we were headed. By comparison, I can generally set up Google Maps navigation in less than 15 seconds.

Of course, this is simply anecdotal, but it seems like the law is pushing people toward the more dangerous option. People very well may start dusting off their old GPS devices to use in the car out of fear that they'll get a ticket for typing in an address while idling in a parking lot. The next time they get lost and frustrated with traffic, they'll take out the GPS and will spend a lot more time with their eyes off the road. Then consider that most people don't realize they have to update their GPS devices manually. The maps end up out-of-date, bugs go unfixed, and drivers generally have a more difficult time getting where they're going.

Basically, in Georgia at least, a minor update to the law might be in order. 

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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