A California court ruled that current legislation does not prohibit drivers from using smartphone maps while operating a motor vehicle, according to the Associated Press. Announced Thursday, February 27 by the 5th District Court of Appeals, the decision overturned a 2013 ruling by a three-judge panel in Fresno Superior Court.

Reading Maps and Driving

Out driving one day in January 2012, Fresno resident Steven Spriggs encountered a traffic jam caused by road construction. Spriggs took out his iPhone to look for an alternate route and was spotted by a California Highway Patrol officer, who ticketed him and fined him $165 under a law that bans cell phone use without a hands-free headset.

Spriggs felt that the law should not have applied to him in that scenario and challenged the fine in traffic court. He lost his case and appealed to the Fresno Superior Court. In both cases, Spriggs represented himself. When his appeal made it to the Court of Appeals, he picked up the pro-bono assistance of attorney Scott Reddie. Reddie’s professional help may have made all the difference in Spriggs’ case.

Laws on Phone Use

The law under which the officer fined Spriggs was found to apply only to speaking and listening on phones (excluding phones used with hands-free headsets), not to using phones for any other purpose, according to Los Angeles Times. Texting while driving was outlawed under later legislation. As the law currently stands, drivers can use not only smartphone maps, but also any other apps that do not involve talking or sending text messages.

Spriggs is in favor of legislation that prevents unsafe use of phones while driving. “If our distractions cause us to drive erratically, we should be arrested for driving erratically,” Spriggs said in an interview with the Associated Press. His son suffered a broken leg from an accident caused by another driver’s inattentiveness while talking on a phone. Spriggs has a hands-free device that he uses if he needs to talk on the phone while driving, and told reporters that he hoped the California legislature would return to the issue and create better guidelines for using distracting devices while driving.

Potential for Further Appeal

The office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris is reviewing the case and could appeal it to the California Supreme Court, which in turn may accept or decline the case.

What do you think of the appellate court’s decision? Do you think drivers should be allowed to use smartphone map apps while driving?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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