Using iPhone Satnav Apps While Driving Is Actually Illegal

tomtom-iphone-appI hope you didn't drop a whole heap of coin on a proper satnav application for your iPhone – turns out that in Australia, using your smartphone as a GPS navigation device is illegal.

According to Traffic Services Commander of the NSW Police, Assistant Commissioner John Hartley:

Under Rule 300 of the Australian Road Rules, which prohibits the use of a hand held device while driving, if the unit is a mobile phone then any function connected to the phone would be classified as use and this includes GPS.

Rule 299, of the Australian Road Rules permits a GPS but not one connected to a mobile phone. A smart phone is still a mobile phone regardless of what else it may be capable of.

That means that even if you buy TomTom's iPhone bracket and stick your iPhone in it to use the device as a satnav, because the iPhone's still a phone, using it is against the law. The same rule goes for any Nokia device offering turn-by-turn navigation, any Telstra phone with WhereIs... If your satnav has a SIM card or mobile phone capability, then you run the risk of being fined.

Chatting with a police officer friend of mine about this, she said that in reality, if your iPhone is window mounted and you use it that way, most police officers "aren't really going to be able to tell whether it is a mobile phone, or a Navman, or iPod or whatever and most would not bother pulling you over for that".

Still, if you do get pulled over, in NSW you're looking at a $253 fine and three demerit points, unless you get caught in a school zone during school zone operating hours, at which point it's $338 and four demerit points. The penalty in other states might be different, but the law is the same across the country.

This whole situation raises a whole heap of questions about both the availability of these apps on iTunes, as well as companies like Nokia marketing their Navigator lineup of handsets. After all - how can a company sell a phone designed to be used illegally, regardless of how archaic the law is?

Stay tuned for more on this...



    "prohibits the use of a hand held device"
    That to me says that it's illegal WHILE IN YOUR HAND. It says nothing about a device (phone or otherwise) in a dock/cradle.
    That would be my interpretation anyway.

      Check any Satnav installed in a car and I believe you will find that YOU CANNOT input a destination unless you stop.Smart idea. The only thing to do while driving is to play. So dont play. Stop to set a destination. Then dont touch it. And putting it up to your ear makes it hard to see....

    So iPod Touch is OK but iPhone isn't? Gotcha. Makes perfect sense.

      You'll find that any interaction with a hand-held device will get you booked. In 2010 I was booked for holding a TV remote while driving... I was working for a household goods company delivering TV's, Hi-fi's, Home Theatre. My truck cab had approximately 12,856 remote controls, one of which made it's way across my dash at the same time a police officer on a motorcycle was peeping his little hawk eyes into my truck to see me pick it up and move it. $355 and 3 points later I got shanked up the rear by another police officer bullying their way to quota. If you ask me we need to smarten up, stop wrapping everything in cotton wool and let people take a LITTLE more responsibility for their own safety. Who knows we might LEARN to be safer, rather than being completely unaware of the true dangers.

      I wonder if TomTom AU will be offering any refunds? Doubtful.

    thanks for the story.. blabber mouth!

    now when Apple gets wind of this you know they are gonna pull it from the store!

    you idiot stimpy!

    Stupid idiots, making moronic laws like should carry the death penalty (its the only way law makers will learn).

    This is just another example of the law being an ass. instead of just generally making it illegal (or enforcing the already existing law, which I think is more accurate) to drive without paying due care and attention by mucking about with anything (up to and including a 'proper' GPS, but also, talking to your passenger, changing the radio station, etc, etc) they nickel and dime us with laws regarding specifics such as this.
    This law is simply repugnant. If I read this cops assessment correctly, what this means is that you can use the phone in a perfectly safe (handsfree) manner as a GPS and get charged, but someone else can drive at 100kph focussing all their attention on using their 'proper' GPS instead of on where they are going, and it's all OK.

    This is NSW State law right?
    Do you know if it applies elsewhere?

      The rules are national. The penalties vary from state to state, as far as I'm aware...

      You can check out the rules here:

        "The penalties vary from state to state" yeah... based on how over budget the state currently is no doubt....

    What the? I just looked up the road rules.

    299 is about Television receivers and visual aids. It allows gps's but doesn't mention any restrictions to phones with gps's.

    300 is about the restriction of mobile phones. The phone has to be held in the hand to be illegal - either parked or idle. Once it's in the cradle, it should be legal.

      If you read 300 carefully, it says that you must not use a phone while the car is in motion unless the phone is being used to make a call while in a secure mounting. ALL other uses are deemed illegal.

        My interpretation of section 300 is that as long as you're not touching the phone and it's secured in a commercial dock then it's fine.
        The warning on all the satnav devices I've ever used says "Don't operate this device while driving".
        Just set it up before you leave, and if you have to change it, park the car first.

          But it's not your interpretation that will be issuing the fine...

            I still think they would have to catch you in the act of operating it while driving to fine you (technically speaking).
            Surely simply having it on in a dock when you get pulled over for a random breath test (or similar) wouldn't be enough to warrant a fine. But I guess that would have to depend on the officer in question.

              That's exactly the response I got from my police officer friend. If they want to bust you, it's completely within their right to do so, but there's a good chance they'll let it slide if it's bracket mounted properly.

            So true, nice one Nick :)

        300 says you can't operate a mobile phone "you are holding in your hand" using a bracket should mean you are not breaking this rule (hands free is fine isn't it?).

        299 says the driver must not be able to see any screen, unless it is a driver's aid. the fact that the device is a phone has nothing to do with this rule at all, the only argument would be that its not Always a driver's aid (a gps is counted as a drivers aid), and could just as easily be used for watching a video, which would break this rule. but unless caught red handed Not using it as a GPS, I doubt this would hold up when challenged in court.

        mind you people have been fined for eating chocolate bars because the police have thought it was a phone that they were using.... so you might have to challenge it in court, but I'd fail to see how you would loose, given the rules as they appear in that doc.

        Sorry Nick, guys, the rule in the 2008 one posted by Lucas states its fine if its in a bracket, but in the 2009 one posted by Nick, it says it can ONLY be used to make or receive a call - bracket or not.

        The bastards have changed it! and they've changed it to be LESS relevant in this day and age than the old one!!!!!

    Then use an iPod Touch, then its not a phone? Not illegal then, and TomTom have said it works with the Touch, so there, its not illegal to use it :D

      I think the whole idea here is that you've paid many dollars to get a phone which is capable of this, so you don't want to put down another $400 for a separate device to do the same thing. Otherwise why not just get a dedicated GPS?

    What if the phone is in flight mode?

    i did as it happens drop some hard earned on iPhone app, whatever am i going to do now it's illegal? are you saying i'll have to break the law to use my turn by turn navigation. Ha

      Flight-mode or not, it still has a SIMM card or other 'phone-making' device, so I doubt that'd fly, so to speak.

    As P-Plater (NSW) ive always wondered what would happen if i got pulled up using my iphone as a gps, guess this answers that questions.

    Does this also apply if the phone is switched into "airplane" mode?

      I believe it's a $500 fine if your caught with your mobile phone in flight mode when not currently on a flight...

    Let me get this stright, its legal to use a SAT NAV that doesn't have a SIM card in it, as soon as it has a SIM it is deemed illegal?

    Must be a bit of slow week in the news! What a beat up. Although by the letter of the law you're correct smartphones have been doing this for a decade. I expect more of Gizmodo - you guys are normally above this type of hysteria

    BS! These so called RULES are NOT LAWS! Wake up Australians!! The RTA writes these 'rules', they are not laws enacted in parliament.

    That also means speed cameras are illegal money making machines and have NOTHING to do with the road toll. Revenue is all they care about!

    so technically if i take the sim card out of my iPhone i can use the GPS application since

    So, hands-free phone use (including iphone) while driving is legal, window mounted GPS is legal, using a window mounted GPS as a speaker (i.e. no SIM in the actual device)is legal...but that same window mounted phone used as a GPS device isn't?? Sure, make perfect sense!!

    I don't see how this can be national when roads (and laws governing thereof) are under state jurisdiction. Hence, in NSW it's the RTA, Vic has VicRoads, etc etc.

      We have reciprocal agreements between the states to ensure the laws stay more or less in sync - it'd be entirely stupid to have a different set of road laws in every state.

    Dave, nothing to stop you using it while walking :), or possibly riding a bike or horse!

    Rules are not laws. If you have a look at the website you have quoted you will see:
    Please note that the Australian Road Rules are model Rules only and have no legal effect.

    They are essentially policy documents designed to provide guidance so that the states will implement consistent laws across jurisdictions. The commonwealth does not have the constitutional authority to create road laws.

    If you want to talk about what the state police can or can't do you'll need to you know..... quote some laws. For New South Wales:
    Indicates that using hands free is perfectly legal. Maybe the legislation has been changed I've not idea.

    Maybe this has been enacted in the NSW legislation but this comment
    "The rules are national. The penalties vary from state to state, as far as I’m aware…" represents what can only be described as a fundamental misunderstanding on the nature of our legal system.
    Sorry Nick blogger fail.

      You're right - the "rules are not legally binding". They were initiated to try and bring some level of uniformity across the states in regards to road rules. Therefore, I was wrong with last little quote there. I'll cop that.

      However - in NSW at least, the law is in effect as you can see by the quote from the NSW Police assistant commissioner. And (I'll probably go into this a bit more tomorrow) there's a legal precedent (DPP v Chresta) from back in 2005 where the magistrate deemed that "use" of mobile phones pretty much means any function of a handset, from texting to GPS, regardless of it being docked.

      Don't get me wrong - this whole thing is like swimming in a grey lake in a black and white movie, but the truth is that as it stands, you could be fined for using your smartphone as a satnav.

    This sounds like either an odd loophole, a misinterpretation, or maybe, just maybe, a total beat-up.
    There is no logical reason a GPS unit is legal, a handsfree phone is legal, but a handsfree phone that works as a GPS is illegal.
    I dare say you would be extremely unlucky to be charged for using the iPhone as a GPS, and if you did you would surely have very solid grounds for appeal.

    Umm, wouldn't this also mean that you can't use your mobile phone for handsfree (speakerphone) talk? In Queensland at least that is only illegal in your first year of P plates.

    so really if you bluetooth connect your sat nav to your phone then your sat nav is the phone... oh no its illegal

    so, what the easy way out it, stop driving. use a refidex. a UBD. maybe learn the area you a driving to. check it out with google earth before you leave.

    i'm just saying the simple way to not get a ticket is to not drive.

    the law actually states "...prohibits use of a mobile phone which the user is holding..." therefore, if it is in the bracket you are not breaking the law. at least in queensland that is the case

    The amendments referred to in the quote from NSW Police do not appear to have been incorporated into NSW law. I think the NSW Police have misunderstood how the law works. If you refer to the Road Rules 2008 as available on the official website (NSW Parliamentary Counsel's Office), you can see that rule 300(1) of the Road Rules 2008 currently provides that:

    The driver of a vehicle (except an emergency vehicle or police vehicle) must not use a mobile phone that the driver is holding in his or her hand while the vehicle is moving, or is stationary but not parked, unless the driver is exempt from this rule under another law of this jurisdiction

    The Australian Road Rules are not automatically incorporated into NSW law. This means that although the National Transport Commission amends the rules, from time to time, these amendments are not automatically incorporated into NSW law. In NSW, section 71 (and s 71(3) in particular) of the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act 1999 has been used to make a regulation incorporating some of the Australian Road Rules. This is the Road Rules 2008.

    The Act is here:

    The regulation is here:

    By the way, decisions of a magistrate are not binding on anybody as magistrates are at the bottom of the judicial ladder. Note that rule 300(2) provides that:

    "use, in relation to a mobile phone, includes the following:
    (d) operating any other function of the phone."

    So as far as I can see you'd be stuffed anyway!

    NB: I am a lawyer and admitted to practise in NSW, but this post is not intended to constitute legal advice to any individual. It is simply my opinion as to the state of the law.

      I should clarify that my comments on being stuffed related to the meaning of "use".

      Reading the latest version of the Rules, I note that mobile phone is only defined as excluding a CB radio and other 2-way radio. There would be a strong argument that given rule 299 expressly contemplates the use of a visual display unit as part of navigation equipment, rule 300 should not be interpreted as prohibiting the use of mobile phones as navigation devices.

      In other words, you would have a physical mobile phone that is not a legal "mobile phone" for the purposes of the Rules when used as a navigation device.

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