3 Tips For Using Your Smartphone GPS Map App While You’re Driving

MAY 2013: Did you know that last month California banned the use of smartphone map apps while driving? A judge ruled that they’re a distraction. Unless — and here’s the important part —  you can operate the app completely hands-free. 

Is that possible? You bet! Here’s how smart frogs can plan ahead and stay legal no matter where you use your map app: 

1) Start with the right gear.
Get a smartphone dashboard mount to hold your phone and a car charger to keep it fully juiced up while driving. 

2) Turn off automatic functions that require you to touch your phone.
Notifications? Auto-off? Passcode lock screen? Turn ‘em off! Your map app should keep your smartphone “awake” but this isn’t always the case. So make sure your phone stays on and won’t require you to touch it. But remember to turn all these functions back on when you park.

3) Program and start the app before you put your car in drive.
As with a dedicated GPS device, enter the address and get it ready to go while you’re still parked, then hit start. If you need to re-program it while you’re driving — let’s say you come up on a traffic jam or remember you need to go someplace else first — legally, you’ll need to pull over. Even apps with voice recognition features require you to touch your phone to activate it.

The California judge’s ruling has sparked a debate over banning map apps but not banning dedicated GPS devices, paper maps or hand-written directions — aren’t those distractions, too? — and whether “mapping while driving” should have the same legal ramifications as texting while driving. Michigan has a similar law, and West Virginia is writing bills that ban technology that hasn’t even been invented yet. And since the number of crashes caused by drivers using phones or texting seems to be going up, not down (about one every 30 seconds), be prepared for more laws … and new map apps with hands-free functionality and smartphone products like Scout for Cars that integrate with your car’s built-in screen.