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Can I legally use my phone for navigation while driving?

New York's law against texting while driving is strict. It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile device while you drive. This means you can't talk on a phone if you're holding it while driving. You can't use your phone to send or retrieve texts, emails or the Internet. You can't use your phone to take or view photos, and you can't play games with it. The only exceptions are for dialing 911 or otherwise contacting emergency services about an emergency.

So, where does GPS fit in with this? Many people use their smartphones or portable GPS devices to assist with navigation when they are driving to an unfamiliar place. Is this against the law?

The key to answering this question lies in the language about "hand-held" devices. It should be OK to use a cellphone or other device for navigation services while driving, but only if you are using it in a hands-free mode. This means if you must type in an address, you must do so before you get on the road. You can also pull over to a safe spot to type the address of your desired destination.

Once you have typed in the address, your navigation system can direct you by sound transmitted either through your device's internal speaker or through a connection to your car stereo.

A first offense violation of the texting-while-driving law can result in a fine of from $50 to $200, plus a surcharge of up to $93. Perhaps even more serious for some drivers, one of these traffic offenses can result in five points against your driver's license. Under New York's point system, you can lose your license if you accrue 11 points.

These penalties are harsh, and it is important to remember that you can defend yourself against them. Talk to a lawyer with experience in traffic offenses about your options.

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