While stopped in heavy traffic, Steven Spriggs pulled out his smartphone
to check a map application to find an alternate route around the congestion.
A CHP officer spotted him holding his phone and cited him for violating
CA Vehicle Code Section 23123, which prohibits drivers from "using
a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and
configured to allow hands free listening and talking, and is used in that
manner while driving." Spriggs fought the ticket on the grounds that
he was not talking on his phone, but only looking at a map. It would not
have been illegal for Spriggs to look at a paper map while driving. After
losing at the trial level, he appealed and the appeals court reversed
his conviction, stating:
"The statute means what it says -- it prohibits a driver only from
holding a wireless telepone while conversing on it. ... This is becuase
the statute specifically states the telephone must be used in a manner
that allows for hands free listening and talking. It does not state that
it must be used in a manner that allows for hands free looking, or hands
free operation, or hands free use or for anything other than handsfree
listening and talking."
The court reasoned that a statute prohibiting all uses of cell phone while
driving would mean drivers could be ticketed for merely looking at their
phone to check the time or touching the phone or moving it at all and
this would lead to absurd results. However, CHP has already complained
about this ruling saying that it creates problems for officers who observe
drivers holding a cell phone but may not know whether the driver is talking
or texting on the phone (both of which are illegal) or merely using the
phone to look at a map or some other legal use of the phone.
In reality, reading a map on your smartphone is no less dangerous than
talking or texting while driving. Some legal commentators have stated
-- and I agree -- the appeals court may have gotten it right on the details
but they lost sight of the big picture. The purpose of the hands free
law was to prevent the kind of distracted driving that leads to accidents.
The law makes us all of us on the road safer and those who talk or text
while driving should be ticketed because they are making the roads more
dangerous for all of us. Nevertheless, as technology continues to improve
and give us more and more applications that can be used while driving,
the legislature will have to improve the hands free law to keep pace with
that technology. In the meantime, I hope drivers will continue to use
common sense and avoid any distractions while driving -- legal or not.
If you or someone you love has been injured in an auto accident,
call for a free, no hassle
consultation with a lawyer. Know your rights.