SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A fresh court ruling in California states that using a phone solely for navigation is a violation of hands-free laws.

The Fresno Superior Court issued the ruling about GPS on phones while driving. A driver fighting a ticket argued that the law about hands free behind the wheel means calling and texting, not GPS navigation which was acceptable in many other forms in the car. But, the judges came down with a strict interpretation that holding a phone while driving is a violation, even if holding a similarly sized Garmin or TomTom would not be.

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The takeaway from this is that a telephone or “wireless communications device” suffers from a harsher treatment under the law that certain other handheld tech. Think how many portable GPS devices, iPods and digital cameras are juggled behind the wheel each day, yet escape the law’s scrutiny.

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If you are going to use your phone for GPS in the car, get a mount for it and make sure you also consult California’s laws about where that can go (See CVC 26708) which is a 5″ square area top center of your windshield for toll tags or a GPS device can go in “a seven-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield farthest removed from the driver or in a five-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield nearest to the driver and outside of an airbag deployment zone, if the system is used only for door-to-door navigation while the motor vehicle is being operated.”

Beyond legal placement of the device, you might also want to operate it via voice, which all modern smartphones support. Some bay area communities are launching handheld device crackdowns this spring.

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