Navigating road rules can be tricky. The laws vary state to state. And with ever-changing technologies at our disposal, it’s difficult to know exactly what we should be doing with our mobile devices behind the wheel.

In NSW, our Road Rules provide that full licensed drivers are able to use their mobile phones to make or answer calls, listen to music, or for GPS navigation provided that they have the mobile phone in a cradle fixed to their vehicle and not obstructing their view of the road.

Provisional or learner drivers are, however, completely prohibited from using mobile phones while driving (or stationary) on the road.

So where does this leave provisional and learner drivers with navigation devices? Are GPS devices sufficiently distinguishable from mobile phones to mean that they are not prohibited?

Well, it’s somewhat less clear than you would think.

In Crescente, Lionel v D.P.P*, the court suggested that ‘any device which activates a carriage service so that there can be a transmission of a telecommunication and is portable constitutes a mobile phone’. This view suggests that some GPS devices could possibly be considered mobile phones. GPS devices, after all, send and receive signals to locate users and in some cases, could well be capable of communication services.

However, the NSW Government Centre for Road Safety states on their website that GPS devices are, in fact, permitted for all drivers: learner, provisional and otherwise (provided that the device is in cradle fixed to the vehicle and not obstructing the driver’s view).

Still, the main consideration, it seems, is that devices used by learner or provisional drivers must not have capabilities beyond navigation. And in our ever-expanding technological landscape, it will be interesting to see how long devices with such confined limitations continue to exist.

This does not constitute legal advice.

*[2009] NSWDC 129, at 7.

James Janke

James Janke

Criminal Lawyer