Technology Ticket Overturned

Prohibiting the use of smartphones while operating a vehicle is a fairly common practice through the United States. There are numerous fines and violations associated with talking on the phone and texting when behind the wheel of a car. But a recent appeal court ruling in California is posing the question: Can legislation for technology use keep up with the rapidly changing industry?

Peter Spriggs of Fresno, Calif. was ticketed in 2012 for using his phone to look at his Map application while stuck in traffic.  Spriggs fought the ticket for two years—admittedly just to get his $165 back—but an appeals court overturning the ticket marks acknowledgement that the law created years ago, in this case in 2006, are extremely out of date and mostly irrelevant.

We’re not in California, so why should Chicagoans care? Well, let’s take a look at the current law for using electronic devices while operating a vehicle in Illinois:

“A person may not operate a motor vehicle on a roadway while using an electronic communication device.”

The law defines an electronic device as a “hand-held wireless telephone, hand-held personal digital assistant, or a portable or mobile computer.” So far it seems pretty straightforward: No electronic devices are allowed when driving. But the law also lists exceptions that do not apply to the law, and the last one reads as follows:

“…a driver using an electronic communication device capable of performing multiple functions, other than a hand-held wireless telephone or hand-held personal digital assistant for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited…”

A 2013 Pew Research study found 60 percent of total cell phone users have the capability to access the Internet on their phones and nearly 50 percent of total cell phone users access directional and location-based services on their phones. In other words, a large portion of users of all ages are using phones that service several functions beyond making and receiving calls or text messages.

Essentially, if Mr. Spriggs had been looking at a map on his phone in Illinois, the ticket could possibly be overturned as well, that is if the same interpretation of the law was made. Other exceptions to Illinois’ law include using an electronic device in an emergency situation, such as calling 911, when the vehicle is in park or neutral, or is stopped on the side of the roadway. The law also—annoyingly—states that law enforcement officials and emergency response personnel are exempt from the law when they are conducting “official duties,” but I think everyone has experienced their fair share of law enforcement texting and driving during what is undoubtably an “unofficial duty.” The law also states it is not against the law to use these devices when in a voice-activated, hands-free mode.

But the Illinois law was updated in 2013, not 2006, meaning it is relatively recent and didn’t go into effect until January 1 of this year.

Technology is amazing if only due to its ability to be innovated and changed rapidly. As each new iPhone is launched, a law passed to regulate its use becomes even more irrelevant. And while I’m not an advocate for texting or talking while driving, it’s weird that cell phones are taking most of the heat for distracting drivers. Anyone with a newer vehicle can attest to the numerous built-in features on their dashboard and steering wheel that could cause them to take their eyes off the road or hand off the wheel.

And to further prove my point regarding fancy dashboards, here’s some news about CarPlay, a new dashboard concept developed by Apple for, at least right now, higher end cars.

Nearly every phone sold on the market today has a hands-free, voice activated function for people to use in place of operating the device with their hands. Bluetooth has been available for longer than I can remember. GPS devices like Garmin and TomTom aren’t new. The concept of incorporating our smartphones into our daily habits, such as driving, work, cooking and personal finance is now common practice. It’s no longer the exception, it’s the rule.

So why are laws still being made to restrict these devices if the proper features are available? Why did it take two years for this specific court case to be overturned when the law never really applied to the device in question in the first place? We’re now part of a society that can create and produce innovative products and designs faster than our government can draft laws to regulate them.

And, simply put, they shouldn’t be regulating them. If anything, the legislators should be investing time into researching and funding how technology can be better incorporated and efficiently used in day-to-day activities.

Spriggs was simply searching for an alternative route using the map feature on his phone. If you were to ask anyone, they’d probably say accessing a map on a screen was far safer than navigating a paper map with 24 different folds.

Sean McEntee – Social Media Editor, WCRXFM

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