Smartphone Maps and Driving: Should This be Outlawed?

Driving while texting has been discussed often, and it’s illegal to do so in many places, and sometimes it’s even against the law to talk on the phone while driving. This begs the question of what should be allowed on cell phones while operating a vehicle. At least some out there feel that a phone shouldn’t even be touched while driving. But what about smartphone maps and driving?

Obviously a maps app is put on a mobile phone to help you find your way. These apps are on there not so that we can take a bus or walk. They are there to help us drive. While we know we aren’t supposed to text and drive, and that some think we shouldn’t talk and drive (although most of us still do), it seems like when we want to know where our next turn is or if there is an alternate route, we should be able to check our maps app.

A motorist was stuck in a traffic jam recently and wanted to check if there were any alternate routes that would help him get moving again. He started checking out the maps on his phone, then was ordered to pull over by a police officer. He was ticketed for “distracted driving.” He fought it in court, explaining that if you can use a paper map in a car, you should be able to use a maps app. The judge decided that cell phones are a distraction no matter how they’re used.


That leaves all of us uttering, “But … but … but …” It’s hard to even formulate a response. Even smartphone maps and driving should be against the law? It seems like it should be allowed.

The judge’s point was that anything that takes your eyes off the road is a distraction. This is true. But everything takes your eyes off the road. Changing a radio station, locking your doors, turning up air conditioning, opening a window, adjusting the rear and side-view mirrors, and yes, even reading a paper map. Forget trying to fold it up again while you’re driving. Why are other things worse just because they involve a smartphone?

Ideally that’s why cars are now being manufactured with many of the controls on the steering wheel and column, to keep your eyes where they belong. Ideally that’s why Siri and other voice control apps exist so that we can ask for it verbally and not have to take our eyes off the road. That’s why turn-by-turn navigation is necessary in map apps, so that the app can tell us where to turn and so we don’t have to look.


But as smart as our smartphones are, they will never be as logic as we are. I don’t want the phone choosing my route all the time, as oftentimes they can be wrong. Sure, I should have examined it before I left, but if I do get stuck in a traffic jam. I want to know if the route I asked Siri for will avoid the traffic jam. Siri doesn’t know that. I would know from looking. And if I’m in a traffic jam, I’m not moving anyway.

Now that this distracted driving debate is being expanded to include smartphone maps and driving, it’s clear it’s not a closed topic. There are good arguments on both sides, but the perfect solution seems to be that it should be allowed some of the time, but not all of the time, yet laws don’t function that way. What do you think? Should maps apps be allowed while driving or should phones not be touched at all at any time by someone operating a vehicle?

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.


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  2. You mentioned ‘smartphones’ but then you mentioned Siri. Siri is only one example. Perhaps Google now does a better job? You never mentioned the iPhone. If you’re stationary with the engine running, then i guess the vehicle is actually being ‘driven’. ‘Due care & attention’ becomes a legal requirement, whatever else you’re trying to do.

  3. Of course Siri is only one example, but it also happens to be the more reocgnizable example and the most widely known, so the most obvious choice when looking for an example. You’re absolutely right that due care and attention is a legal reguirement for everything, but it’s interesting to note that we never hear of anyone being arrested for changing the radio station or reading a paper map.

  4. I have used my phone a couple of times like that while waiting at a light. I suppose a dash mount would solve the problem – then the phone would be more like a dedicated navigation device?

  5. I think the government should leave people alone to determine what they can and can’t do whenever and where ever with whatever. People all don’t have the same abilities. If people screw up, they are held responsible.End of story. You can ban or make all the laws you want. Your never going to stop anything like that.

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