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California Appeals Court Rules State Law Doesn't Prohibit Driver Use of Smartphone Maps
Because the law is so narrowly tailored -- it prohibits "listening" and talking on a phone without a hands-free device, as well as sending and receiving text-based messages -- it does not specifically apply to using smartphones in other ways.
The 5th District Court of Appeal reversed the case of a Fresno man who was ticketed in January 2012 for looking at a map on his iPhone 4 while stuck in traffic. The driver, Steven Spriggs, challenged the $165 fine and won.It is possible that the California state legislature will address the issue in a future session as the law was likely intended to ban drivers from playing Angry Birds or making changes in a smartphone mapping app while driving, though a strict reading of the law doesn't explicitly make those activities illegal.
Spriggs was caught up by road work and grabbed his cellphone to find an alternate route when a California Highway Patrol officer on a motorcycle spotted him and stopped him to write the ticket.
The decision reversed the ruling of a lower appeals court from last year.
Laws in other states may or may not cover the use of smartphone mapping apps, and this ruling will have no impact in states other than California. In addition, California drivers can still be cited for distracted driving, but could point to this case when fighting their ticket in court.