Last week, The Dominion Post asked the Transport Ministry whether it would illegal from November to use mobile phones as satellite navigation aids in cars.
The initial response from spokesman John Summers was confusing and ambiguous. But pressed for clarification, Mr Summers consulted colleagues and came back with a clear answer:
“You asked whether a driver can look at a navigation system on a mobile phone even it is securely mounted. The answer is to this is no, not while driving.
“Under the Road User Amendment Rule 2009, you can use a mobile phone held in a cradle (including those that double as a GPS device) while driving but only to make, receive or terminate a phone call. You cannot use them in any other way such as reading a GPS map, reading email, or consulting an electronic diary.”
I would contend that was a sensible and considered position, and that Transport Minister Steven Joyce’s decision yesterday to cave in from pressure from gadget-fans and amend the rule was a mistake.
I contend it was the exact opposite, and the Minister inserting some common sense into the rule making.
Mr Joyce said it was not the intent of the rule to make it illegal for motorists to use the satellite navigation or music functions of their cellphones, “provided these are mounted in the vehicle and are manipulated infrequently”.
He met with officials and instructed them to “amend the rule accordingly”.
Mr Joyce appears to have thereby explicitly sanctioned people taking their eyes off the road and looking at instructions on their mobile phone, and tinkering with it, while their vehicle is in motion.
That is arguably more dangerous than people using unmounted cellphones to answer calls, the problem the rule change was originally designed to tackle.
Well I’m no fan of the cellphone ban anyway, but there is a big difference between using a device to chat to someone not in the car, and using a device to tell you where to drive.
If Tom thinks there should be no tinkering in cars, will he support banning all car radios?
How long does Mr Joyce believe it would be safe for people to take their eyes off the road? Say it takes 2 seconds to absorb the visual information from a smartphone doubling as a SatNav. In that time a car travelling at 50km will travel 27 metres.
That could be the two seconds during which a child steps out in front of the vehicle.
But here is where Tom misses the point. The Government has never intended to ban the use of GPS devices in cars. If we did so, we would be the laughing stock of the world as the most common consumer use of GPS is for car navigation. And imagine the impact on tourism as tourists are told they can not use GPS to find their way around – but instead have to use maps.
Incidentally far more dangerous for a driver to be looking at maps while driving, than a GPS device.
You see the stupidity of the draft rule is that using your cellphone for GPS navigation would have been illegal, but using a dedicated GPS navigation device would not be illegal. Now it is, and was, daft to differentiate. An iPhone, for example, has just as large a display screen as some dedicated GPS devices.
This makes as much sense as having a rule saying you can’t use your cellphone to take photos, but you can use a normal camera. Laws and rules should not be based on the technology, but on what it is used for.