A California appeals court has ruled (pdf) that it’s legal to use the map application on a mobile phone while driving, even though it’s not legal to use that phone for talking and listening without a hands-free device.
Steven Spriggs had appealed his conviction for using the map function on his phone while stuck in traffic on a Fresno highway. In hearings in traffic court and Superior Court, Spriggs claimed the law prohibits only talking and listening on a phone, not the use of other applications, but judges denied his claim.
The appellate court agreed with Spriggs, however. “Based on the statute’s language, its legislative history, and subsequent legislative enactments, we conclude that the statute means what it says—it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it,” the court held.
Courts throughout California can rely on its definition of the law because the court’s ruling is a published decision, Fresno attorney Scott M. Reddie, who represented Spriggs, told The Fresno Bee. But law enforcement agencies are still sorting out the ruling’s significance.
A California Highway Patrol spokesman told The Bee: “It would be premature at this point to speculate on what impact, if any, this ruling will have on the department. Our officers will continue to enforce the traffic safety laws that are on the books.”
The appeals court pointed out that when the law under which Spriggs was charged was written in 2006, smartphones with map functions weren’t common. “Although the Legislature was concerned about the distraction caused by operating a wireless telephone while holding it, the Legislature's focus was on prohibiting holding the telephone only while carrying on a conversation, not while using it for any other purpose,” Judge Herbert Levy of the Fifth Appellate District wrote. “This is not surprising, given that when the statute was enacted in 2006, most wireless telephones were just that—a telephone—rather than an electronic device with multiple functions.”
Ironically, Spriggs opposes the practice to talking on mobile phones while driving. “My son was badly injured a few years ago when he was struck by a motorist who was talking on a cellphone,” he told The Bee.
Although mobile phones take a lot of heat for drawing drivers’ attention, they’re not the leading cause of distracted-driving accidents. That’s the drivers themselves—being lost in thought or otherwise not paying attention to the task at hand.