California Court Gave Thumbs up to Cellphone Maps When Driving

CaliforniaAs most people know, it is illegal to talk or text on a cellphone when driving except where hands-free, but on Thursday a California court gave the thumbs up to using cellphone maps in the car.

If you are talking or texting, expect a ticket when spotted by the local traffic cop.  However, trying to find your way using a map on your iPhone is now acceptable.

This was decided during a case in a state appeals court in Fresno on Thursday.  The court’s ruling is a first in California, allowing drivers to use maps on smartphones without getting ticketed.

Drivers who rely on GPS functions and map software to get around will be very happy with the news.  However, apparently this is not likely to end the current confusion over what is legal under the state’s hands-free law, and what is most decidedly not.

The current hands-free legislation took place in 2008 and the court has often tried to change it.  This was especially the case when adding a texting ban, due to the fact that teenage drivers can’t seem to keep their eyes and fingers off their phones, even when driving.

Drivers have, however, used paper maps to find their way for years.  They figure, so what is so different between glancing at a paper map and an electronic map?

Apparently the California Highway Patrol (CHP) did say on Thursday that a driver, spending too much time gazing at that little screen and too little on the road, might still get a fine under the hands-free law.  CHP spokesman, Sean Wilkenfeld said that, as with all rulings, the department will still judge whether any action is required in order to enforce safety on the road.

Basically drivers can get into trouble for many distracting actions, including reading, drinking coffee, fussing around with the kids in the back or even playing around with a mapping device.  Wilkenfeld said that anything that takes the driver’s eye off the road could be a danger, and that just a half-second of not looking can be the difference between causing a collision on the roads or driving safely.

What happened to change things on Thursday was a legal challenge by one Steven Spriggs of Fresno.  Spriggs was pulled over in heavy traffic by a CHP officer and received a citation under the codes barring cellphone use unless it is hands free.  Spriggs fought the $165 ticket that he received for using an iPhone map on the road and it seems he won.  The Fresno, California court gave him thumbs up to using cellphone maps when driving in his individual case.

What the 5th District Court of Appeal decided was that the law was not intended to cover looking at a cellphone map and the court reversed Spriggs’ conviction.  The appeals court stated that Spriggs did not violate the statute, because he was not, in effect, talking on the phone.  He was merely glancing at a map.

According to Spriggs, he agrees that driving distracted is dangerous.  He says he uses a hands-free device when he talks and drives.  He told AP that people are distracted all the time and that should peoples’ distraction cause them to drive erratically, then they should be arrested.

He continued to explain that in his case, he was delayed in the traffic by roadwork and was trying to find a different route on the map on his cellphone when he was pulled over.  He then lost the case in the traffic court and appealed in Fresno County Superior Court before taking it to the appellate court.

While Spriggs was lucky with his appeal, the appeals court does not always have the final word.  Cases will always be taken on a case by case basis.

According to Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety, should someone use a GPS, they should set it before leaving for their destination.  He says if they need to change it, they should pull over.  He stressed that the interpretation of the law is up to the court, who in this case gave the thumbs up to cellphone maps when driving in California.  He said that their duty is to talk about safety, urging that it is safest not to use a cellphone while driving, even for directions.

By Anne Sewell




Contra Costa Times