Needing a GPS to Navigate the Law

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In April, I noted my wife’s ticket in Massachusetts for holding her cell phone in her hand in order to better follow audio GPS directions.  Surprisingly, although we requested a court date to contest the ticket, we haven’t heard anything yet.  Meanwhile, judges in Rhode Island are coming to conclusions unhelpful to our cause:

In a decision that has drawn criticism from some in the defense community, a three-magistrate panel upheld a finding that an East Providence man violated a state law banning text messaging while driving when a state trooper spotted him using his GPS.

If upheld, the tribunal’s reading of the law would make Rhode Island the only state in the nation to ban any manipulation of a cell phone by drivers, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. However, talking on a cellphone — an activity that many other states prohibit unless a hands-free device is used — is still allowed.

In Rhode Island, naturally, the problem is compounded by bad drafting of the law, with a definition of “text messaging” as “the process by which users send, read, or receive messages on a wireless handset, including, but not limited to, text messages, instant messages, electronic messages, or e-mails, in order to communicate with any person or device.”  Where the judge’s decision is specious lies in the fact that GPS already exists, so legislators could reasonably have been expected to put it on the list of examples.  “Not limited to,” in this reading, would be a phrase intending to cover some innovation in technology or obscure messaging application that might arise to skirt the law.

Sadly, this is how law gets made, and it probably has been.  The difference was that the law attempted to do much less in the past, leaving people less susceptible to being caught in such interpretations.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    “Two things the people should never see, the making of sausage, the making of law” Otto von Bismarck. No doubt the legislature felt pressed by the “need to do something”, this what you get.

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