Court Rules Drivers Can Use Map App on Phone While Driving
While stopped in heavy traffic, Steven Spriggs pulled out his smartphone to check a map application to find an alternate route around the congestion. A CHP officer spotted him holding his phone and cited him for violating CA Vehicle Code Section 23123, which prohibits drivers from “using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.” Spriggs fought the ticket on the grounds that he was not talking on his phone, but only looking at a map. It would not have been illegal for Spriggs to look at a paper map while driving. After losing at the trial level, he appealed and the appeals court reversed his conviction, stating:
“The statute means what it says — it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it. … This is because the statute specifically states the telephone must be used in a manner that allows for hands free listening and talking. It does not state that it must be used in a manner that allows for hands free looking, or hands free operation, or hands free use or for anything other than handsfree listening and talking.”
The court reasoned that a statute prohibiting all uses of cell phone while driving would mean drivers could be ticketed for merely looking at their phone to check the time or touching the phone or moving it at all and this would lead to absurd results. However, CHP has already complained about this ruling saying that it creates problems for officers who observe drivers holding a cell phone but may not know whether the driver is talking or texting on the phone (both of which are illegal) or merely using the phone to look at a map or some other legal use of the phone.
In reality, reading a map on your smartphone is no less dangerous than talking or texting while driving. Some legal commentators have stated — and I agree — the appeals court may have gotten it right on the details but they lost sight of the big picture. The purpose of the hands free law was to prevent the kind of distracted driving that leads to accidents. The law makes us all of us on the road safer and those who talk or text while driving should be ticketed because they are making the roads more dangerous for all of us. Nevertheless, as technology continues to improve and give us more and more applications that can be used while driving, the legislature will have to improve the hands free law to keep pace with that technology. In the meantime, I hope drivers will continue to use common sense and avoid any distractions while driving — legal or not.
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