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A safe home for your GPS

CONSUMER WATCH

New law lets drivers attach navigation units to two small corners of their windshields.

December 21, 2008|David Colker

After writing about budget GPS navigation units for cars on Nov. 20, I got several e-mails from readers who pointed out that I'm an outlaw.

Not in the good sense, like with country music singers, but because the photos that ran with the story clearly showed the test GPS units affixed to the lower middle of my windshield.

As readers pointed out, it's illegal in California to mount a GPS anywhere on a windshield. To stay within the law, users have to somehow affix the devices to the dash or use a bean-bag type holder that looks about as classy as fuzzy dice.

But there's good news for fellow outlaws who attach GPS units to windshields: Your day of liberation is coming. Sort of.

According to a state law that goes into effect Jan. 1, a GPS device can be mounted on the windshield.

But not anywhere. There will be two legal windshield mounting spots:

1) Within a "seven-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield" on the passenger side, says the law.

In other words, if you draw a line seven inches up from the bottom of the windshield on the far lower right, and another line seven inches from the right side, the mount must fit within that box.

2) Within a "five-inch square in the lower corner" on the driver's side.

To gauge how practical these two spots are for GPS viewing, I did further tests.

Because it was not yet Jan. 1, this was illegal, but given that I had never heard of anyone getting a ticket for GPS mismounting, I was willing to take the risk.

The first option, on the bottom right side of the windshield, isn't worth consideration unless you have a passenger willing to do the navigating for you.

Even in my subcompact Nissan, that position was too far away for me to safely view the 4.3-inch screen on a Magellan Maestro 4200 model (this nonbudget unit with lots of bells and whistles goes for about $200).

And while you should never enter anything as complicated as a destination address on a GPS navigator while driving, it's nice to have it within reach to do one-touch commands, such as muting the speaker while talking on the phone -- using a hands-free headset, of course. (I might be an outlaw, but not I'm not stupid.)

But even in my small car, the Magellan on the passenger side was too far away to safely touch for anyone except, perhaps, LeBron James, and he's probably not driving around in a subcompact.

On the plus side, the passenger-side mounting left the front view almost unobstructed. And I could still clearly hear the voice commands.

On to option No. 2, the far left corner.

Numerous people have speculated on websites that mounting the GPS unit there would be dangerous because drivers would have to take their eyes off the road to view it.

I thought so, too, but I was pleasantly surprised. A quick glance at the screen seemed no more distracting than a look at the radio or heat controls.

In fact, it seemed easy to see the screen -- again, at a glance -- and stay aware of what was happening on the road at the same time.

The left-side mounting also left the windshield mostly uncluttered.

And it brought the screen closer to the driver than when it is mounted in the middle, making it easier to read quickly.

In the end, I decided that I actually preferred the left-side mounting over the middle of the windshield.

Not all GPS units will be accommodating, however. The main model tested for last month's review was the Goodyear GY135 (about $135). Although it had only a 3.5-inch screen and few frills, this nimble unit did a fine job of navigating.

But its sharp-angled mounting system could not fit into even the 7-inch area on my car. As with many contemporary autos, the windshield meets the dashboard at a steep slant, leaving little space at the bottom.

While the Magellan's straight-arm mount just fit (it actually needed about 5 1/8 inches on driver's side, but one would hope a police officer wouldn't measure that strictly), the smaller Goodyear was way out of legal bounds.

So, the lesson is: Don't buy even a mini GPS navigator that you can't return in case it doesn't meet the new requirements.

And don't tell anyone I am no longer an outlaw. It will ruin my street cred.

--

david.colker@latimes.com

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