A plea for portable GPS equipment

Attention directionally challenged road warriors: Deliverance is at hand.

Most people in our car-dependant culture have encountered the stubborn spouse who refuses to pull over for directions, the disgruntled child who repeatedly asks, “are we there yet?” or the frustration that comes from frantically shuffling through maps or directions only to discover… you’ve just missed your exit.

These problems have plagued humanity since creation of the wheel, but a solution has been found, one explained by three simple letters: G, P and S.

The more affluent among us have long had the privilege of shelling out thousands of extra dollars to buy a car equipped with an optional, factory-installed Global Positioning System.  While these systems have been great for getting the Lincoln from point A to point B, their prohibitively high cost makes this luxury out of reach for motorists like you and my directionally deficient chief of staff.
Upon this bleak horizon, amazingly little, low-cost gadgets known as portable GPS devices have begun popping up at your local electronics, auto supply and discount stores faster than tickets to those who keep yakking on their non-hands-free cell phones.
Portable GPS devices have the same benefits as their manufacturer-installed siblings without the unfortunate side effect of emptying the family savings.  Large numbers of motorists are now receiving space-based directions to the nearest Starbuck’s.  Industry reports show 2.5 million of these gadgets sold in North America in 2006 and 10 million in 2007.  Sales are expected to top 20 million in 2008.
Despite their growing popularity, however, most drivers are using them illegally in California.  Really.

Under current law drivers are prohibited from placing anything—with few exceptions—on the windshield that may impede the driver’s ability to clearly see the roadway through the windshield.  That means you can’t use the windshield mount that is sold with your GPS.  Mounting it on the dashboard is also a no no.

This leaves millions of drivers faced with either a) breaking the law and risking a $108 ticket; or b) putting the gadget out of easy view, a location that raises the likelihood of an unplanned detour to the emergency room.

To correct the mixed signals on what is safe vs. what is legal, I introduced Senate Bill 1567.  The bill goes by the mundane, but accurate, title of the GPS Windshield Safety Act, though I am tempted to call it the Portable GPS Decriminalization Act.  SB 1567 would allow drivers to mount their devices on their windshields without fear of citation and out of reach of any restless back-seat toddler.

After working closely with the California Highway Patrol on the wording of this measure, we have received support from the California Motor Dealers Association, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety and the California Space Authority.  Editors at several newspapers, including the Torrance Daily Breeze and the Long Beach Press-Telegram, have given it their stamp of approval.  And both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly approved the bill with broad bipartisan support.  SB 1567 now is only one turn from becoming law.

But not so fast. Before you can get your motor running, head out on the highway and legally look for satellite-assisted adventure, be aware that the final destination of SB 1567 has yet to be mapped out by Gov. Schwarzenegger.  We can only hope he finds his way to sign the bill.

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