A California Appeals Court ruled that reading maps on cell phone while driving is legal, reversing a case of a Fresno man who was ticketed for the same reason in 2012.
Texting or talking on a phone while driving is recognized as a serious offense in several states in the United States. A new ruling from California's 5th District Court of Appeal on Thursday extends the usability of a mobile device beyond hands-free talking. Under the new state law, drivers can look for mapping directions on a mobile device while driving. The announcement comes as a delight for a Fresno driver who was fined $165 for looking at a map for alternate route on his iPhone 4 in January 2012.
California's distraction-free driving laws went into effect in 2009, which bans drivers from texting while driving and implemented tougher laws on teenage drivers. But the new law will fits right in, as most drivers depend on maps and GPS functions to get directions for different places. It is still mandatory for drivers to use cell phones with hands-free device.
Steven Spriggs who was slapped with a fine in January last year for using his cell phone's map feature, appealed the case in traffic court. His first attempt failed, which resulted in escalating the case to a three-judge panel in Fresno County Superior Court, where he lost again. Later Spriggs, who said the law did not apply to his scenario, took it to the appellate court and sought help from a law firm that got him up to a pro bono. The appellate judges concluded the law did not cover looking at a cell phone map, hence reversed Spriggs' conviction.
"Spriggs contends he did not violate the statute because he was not talking on the telephone. We agree," the appeals court wrote, according to Mercury News. "We conclude the statute means what it says -- it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it."
Spriggs agrees that distracted driving is a dangerous act and he uses hands-free to talk while driving. For Spriggs, it is a personal experience, as his son lost a leg from an accident with a driver erratically driving while talking on a cell phone.
As for the traffic safety groups, driving without a cell phone is a best solution to avoid distracted driving. "If someone uses a GPS, they should set it prior to leaving for their destination, and if they need to change it pull over," Chris Cochran, spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety, said in a statement. "The interpretation of the law is up to the court -- our mission is to talk about safety and the safest thing is not to use a cellphone."