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Aussie drivers: Buy a cradle, or no iPhone GPS for you

Live in Australia? Have an iPhone? Do you use the iPhone's built-in Maps app, Navigon, or TomTom [iTunes links] to navigate? If you answered yes to all three of those questions, then I have some bad news for you: under the Australian Road Rule 8th Amendment, all use of the iPhone in your car is soon to be banned unless you buy a cradle for it, including using it as a GPS navigator.

An article from the Sydney Morning Herald initially makes it sound as though you won't be able to use such apps at all, especially after reading this quote from a spokesperson for VicRoads, the traffic authority for the Australian state of Victoria: "A phone will only be allowed to be used for its primary purpose. If it's a phone, it's a phone." But once you read farther down the article states, "Drivers will only be able to use mobile phones if they are placed in purpose-made cradles and operation is entirely hands-free." The language of the amendment itself also supports that interpretation.

So it's not the end of the road for iPhone nav apps in Australia, but if you want to continue using your iPhone for said purpose, you'd better go buy a cradle for it, because the fine for getting caught using your iPhone in the car without one is heinously expensive: AU$234! Even TomTom's iPhone cradle doesn't cost that much.

So far the new rule is only confirmed to be rolling out in Victoria, and not until November 9. But don't be surprised if other states and territories follow suit afterward.

New Zealand has a similar cellphone ban coming on November 1, but the NZ proposal is less draconian than the Australian version: the fine is only NZ$80, and the language in the proposal focuses on use of mobile phones for talking and texting, without making any mention of GPS or other uses.

The Australian law seems a bit of an overreach, but I fully support New Zealand's upcoming ban on talking and texting while driving (especially texting – I can't fathom why anyone would think it's okay to text and drive at the same time). I can't speak for Australia's roads, but the roads in New Zealand definitely require one's full attention. The iPhone in particular requires a lot of visual focus in order to use it as a phone unless you have a handsfree setup, and that kind of distraction from the task of driving could potentially lead to a fatal crash on our narrow, winding roads.

Of course there's a question of just how enforceable these laws will be in either country. Unless you're holding the phone up to the side of your head or using it at night, it's unlikely that a passing police car is going to see that your eyes are focused on what's in your hand rather than what's on the road. That's where common sense has to step in: is that phone call from your boss important enough to risk flying off the road? Probably not.

Thanks to reader Brian Rayner for sending this one in.

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