• Driver cited for using map on smartphone while driving
  • California court upholds citation
  • Law addresses distraction, not one specific activity

Chances are you live in one of the 39 states that have a law banning texting and driving. Steven Spriggs does. He lives in California, where a recent court ruling showed it wasn't just texting behind the wheel that could earn a driver a ticket. Under the law, Spriggs was cited for using the mapping application on his mobile phone while driving.

An appeals court upheld the ruling, saying California's law is meant to reduce the distraction that results from using your hands to operate the phone while driving. In California, the court said, "that distraction would be present whether the wireless telephone was being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails."

State laws vary, and not all states will interpret their respective laws so broadly. But the ruling could be important for car shoppers considering whether or not to opt for a navigation system.

The technology can certainly be handy for drivers, whether for finding a destination, searching for a nearby shop or restaurant or just choosing the quickest route home. But rarely is navigation offered as standard equipment on a new car, so opting for the system can be expensive. The cost can seem pointless for smartphone users, many of whom have a device in their pockets that is capable of the same functions.

But Spriggs' traffic ticket illustrates why choosing a factory navigation system may be better in the long run. First, using a car-based navigation system does not violate state texting and driving laws -- even if the driver is using his or her hands, as would be the case with a phone. In fact, some navigation systems limit the functionality available to the driver when the vehicle is in motion.

Second, most navigation systems in new cars can be operated by voice commands. This means drivers can keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road while entering a destination or finding a route.

Last, drivers will never fumble for a car-based navigation system. Much of the distraction that results from smartphone use is related to finding the phone, holding it and looking down -- away from the road -- to operate it. Displays for car-based navigation systems are typically larger and mounted in a fixed location near the driver's sight lines.

So in a world of smartphones and their many available applications, car-based navigation may seem redundant. But the technology may provide the best way to stay safe and legal behind the wheel. And if a built-in navigation system helps to prevent an accident, justifying the expense is simple.

What it means to you: Many smartphones include mapping functionality similar to a vehicle's navigation system, but using a hand-held device can be distracting and even result in a ticket or accident.

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Lindsay Martell has covered entertainment news for E! Entertainment and tech trends for TechTV, CNBC, Newsfactor, and Sci-Tech Today, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.

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