A few days ago, I learned of a new law coming out in Australia that's set to ban cell phone GPS usage while driving. I criticized the Aussie government's approach and noted that while New Zealand had a similar forthcoming law, at least NZ's government was sensible enough not to pursue the cell phone usage ban to the same extent seen in Australia's case.
Sadly, for most of Monday the NZ government had me eating crow, because they temporarily decided to emulate the Aussie rules and amend the new cell phone usage law: according to New Zealand's Transport Ministry, after November 1, New Zealand would ban all use of cellular phones other than using the phone as a hands-free headset to make calls. This would have included using the iPhone as a GPS, and could even potentially have been interpreted to ban using the iPhone as an iPod hooked to the car stereo!
This out-of-the-blue recast of the law had many Kiwi iPhone users fuming, including me, and iPhonewzealand set up an online petition protesting this law. I didn't expect an online petition to have much (if any) impact, so I really hoped some more organized, legitimate form of protest formed before this law took effect.
I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that common sense walks the halls of the NZ government, as the Ministry of Transport's Press Secretary has clarified the Ministry's position:
It is not the intent of the rule to make it illegal for motorists to use the satellite navigation or music functions of their cell phones, provided these are mounted in the vehicle and are manipulated infrequently.
The rule has been clarified to keep its focus where it should be: on discouraging motorists from using handheld cellphones to talk or text while driving.
I've got to say, I'm pretty shocked by this ruling for two reasons: that it came out so quickly (less than a day after the first article claiming the GPS ban would go into effect), and that it came down on the side of common sense. It's not often that any government does something that puts a smile on my face, but it definitely happened today.