California Appeals Court Rules State Law Doesn't Prohibit Driver Use of Smartphone Maps

MapsA California appeals court has ruled that a driver cannot be convicted of distracted driving for using a smartphone mapping application under current state law that prohibits the use of talking and texting while driving.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Top Rated Comments

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84 months ago
MOST "distracted driver" laws are idiotic.

And it's not because distracted driving is OK. The problem is that most of these laws concentrate on SPECIFIC distractions: Texting and e-mailing are NOT OK, but scrolling through your list of contacts to find a number to dial or using a map IS OK? That's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard.

Here's a simple suggestion: Write a law that says ANY distraction is punishable, IF it causes you to cause or be involved in an accident. I don't care if the distraction is your cellphone, your desire to apply makeup while you are driving, your trying to fish a CD case off the floor on the passenger side, or you turning around because your kids in the backseat are misbehaving -- if you take your hands off the wheel or take your eyes off the road, YOU ARE A DISTRACTED DRIVER.

So, eyes front and DRIVE.

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"No, officer, I wasn't distracted when I caused that accident; I was looking at porn on my iPhone. Pretty sure the law doesn't cover that."
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
84 months ago
awesome!
idiotic police giving tickets L and R to substantiate their own meaningless existence!

MOST cops don't think, he should have moved on, obviously the drives was not endangering the traffic in anyway doing what he did.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
84 months ago
I'm almost certain that 'vacuum' won't last; too much at stake with lives lost due to distracted driving.

Having said that, there should be a clear distinction between such cases whether you are driving, or stationary due to traffic lights or construction, etc.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
84 months ago

It is possible that the California state legislature will address the issue in a future session


What issue?
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
84 months ago

The answer to that is obvious: You shouldn't be handing out tickets to anyone JUST because they are distracted. The distraction must lead to actual harm. We shouldn't punish people for what might have happened; we should punish them for what DOES happen.

Most tickets wouldn't apply then if something could be done only after something actually happened. Tickets for going over the speed limit wouldn't apply. Tickets for broken/non-working lights. Tickets for DUI even. That doesn't seem to make much sense really. The whole point of sticking to the laws/regulations and making sure that people stick to them is to avoid all those those bad things, not to wait for them to happen so that then people can be punished for them.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
84 months ago

I'm almost certain that 'vacuum' won't last; too much at stake with lives lost due to distracted driving.

Having said that, there should be a clear distinction between such cases whether you are driving, or stationary due to traffic lights or construction, etc.


The problem is, how do define "distracted driving?" Most new cars now have built-in GPS. If you glance at the built-in screen, like intended, is that distracted? If you use a phone gps, how is that any different than looking at the built-in screen? How is any of this different than when we had paper maps or printed turn by turn directions? How is manipulating a gps any different than manipulating a radio or other controls on a car?

The real problem is caused by people texting or talking on the phone, one-handed and not paying attention. But drivers get just as distracted by talking with other people in the car. A mother with her kids can be equally distracted while driving as someone who is texting while driving.

Where are all the lines drawn?
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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