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Gadget-Based Distractions: What About GPS?

Texting while driving is now against the law in the state of Illinois, as is surfing the web on your smart phone. Fair enough; is it so unreasonable to safely pull over to the side of the road if that text message simply cannot wait? And you can always just clip on your headset and make a phone call.

But what about GPS navigation (also known as "sat-nav"), which provides turn-by-turn directions with the help of satellite technology? The technology is designed to be used while driving, so any law restricting its use would be an outright ban, for all intents and purposes. 

Using a sat-nav system is still allowed under the new texting-while-driving law, but it's not clear whether that also includes navigation applications on iPhones or other high-end, GPS-enabled handsets (Tribune).

The use of a sat-nav system while driving is even more distracting than unfolding a paper map, according to a 2006 study cited by tech blog Engadget. However, reliable data pertaining to map and sat-nav use prior to accidents is likely difficult to obtain. 

Another, more recent survey based on 2,000 British motorists also makes a strong argument that GPS driving is indeed just another form of distracted driving (BusinessWeek). While 19 percent of those surveyed said it caused them to "dawdle or hesitate on a busy road," 18 percent said it "reduced their awareness of what was going on around them."

Ten percent of respondents said sat-nav systems caused them to make "a dangerous, late or illegal turn." More than one-third (36 percent) said GPS use caused them to be "uncertain or confused" in general.

So much for the safety argument of GPS systems. For now, at least, they're still perfectly legal.