It's legal to mount your GPS device or smartphone on your vehicle's windshield in California, but there are specific rules about placement. Obstructed views are a major cause of automobile accidents. The State of California aims to cut the risk caused by obstructed views by requiring you to mount the device as close to the bottom of the windshield as possible.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
California drivers can mount a GPS device or smartphone holder on their vehicles' windshield as long as it's positioned in a five-inch square in the lower corner nearest to the driver or in a seven-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger side.
Rules Regarding Windshield Location
According to the California GPS windshield law, you can mount a portable GPS device or smartphone holder on the windshield in one of two locations:
- In a seven-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger side
- In a five-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield nearest to the driver.
In either case, you should mount the device outside the airbag deployment zone. These permissions apply while you're using the GPS for door-to-door navigation. When the device is switched off, you should remove it to restore your unobstructed view through the windshield.
Penalties for Violating California GPS Windshield Law
California drivers who illegally mount their GPS devices may face citations for "obstruction of view." The exact fine varies by county, but most penalties fall in the $50 to $100 range. In California, the police may decide to issue a warning instead of a fine, called a "Notice to Correct Violation." Ignore the notice, and the police can take you to court where you'll face fines of $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
Alternatives to Windshield Mounts
Another placement option is to use a console or dashboard mount for your smartphone or GPS. In California, you can place a GPS device anywhere on your dash or console as long as it does not obstruct your view. You can no longer hold any electronic devices while you drive. California's hands-free driving law makes it illegal to use your phone or GPS while driving unless you're using it hands-free and voice-operated.
Programming the GPS
As long as your device is mounted legally, the hands-free law allows you to activate the navigation while driving "with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver's finger." Removing and replacing the device from its mount or repeatedly fiddling with it while driving is likely to violate the hands-free law. First-time offenders are subject to a base fine of $20 rising to $50 for each subsequent offense.