Don’t Google or Waze and Drive – Navigation by Cell Phone Can get you Ticketed
New Jersey’s Appellate Division released a published decision yesterday ruling that a driver’s use of his cell phone to type in the address for directions to his destination while driving constitutes the use of the phone prohibited by N.J.S.A. 34:97-3. This section of the motor vehicle code prohibits use of hands-free and hand-held wireless communication devices while driving.
In State v. Troisi A-1324-20 – STATE OF NEW JERSEY VS. MICHELANGELO TROISI (2019-22, MERCER COUNTY AND STATEWIDE) (njcourts.gov) the driver admitted that he had his cell phone in his hand, he used his phone for GPS purposes, and that he took his eyes off the road to do so. The Municipal Court in Princeton, the Law Division, and Appellate Division all agreed that this violated the statute. As a result of Troisi’s appeal a published decision binding on all municipal courts statewide now exists supporting ticketing any driver that does the same.
The municipal court imposed imposed a $206 fine and court costs of $33. Troisi pursued an appeal on his own. He sought to have a higher court agree that he was “engaging in [an] activation process . . . within the plain meaning of the statute[.]” None of the Courts agreed.
The Municipal Court judge found that “punch[ing] in six numbers . . . as a password to get access to the phone and then . . . [finding] the Google Map[s] app to open it up . . . was precisely the kind of conduct that the statute [intended] to prevent.” The municipal court judge interpreted the exception for activating, deactivating, or initiating a function of the phone as allowing the use of one hand to push a button, “but certainly not to do all of the functions that defendant testified [he did]” because it would “make no sense . . . whatsoever to say that the legislature intended that a driver could do all these functions and still pay attention to the road.” The Law Division agreed rejecting defendant’s argument and finding his actions were in excess of what was contemplated by the statute’s reference to activation, deactivation or initiation of a function of the phone.
The Appellate Division found support for the lower courts’ interpretations in the plain language of the statute and in the Legislature’s intent when it was adopted.
Be warned, be safe.