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Appeals court says using map apps not 'distracted driving'

updated 08:40 pm EST, Thu February 27, 2014

Bans on non-hands-free talking, texting stand; other uses not expressly forbidden

A case where a California driver was ticketed for "distracted driving" because he was consulting a map app for an alternate route while stuck in traffic has resulted in a victory for the driver. The Fifth District Court of Appeals found that a strict interpretation of the law, which bans talking or "listening" on a cell phone without a hands-free device for drivers, and also bars sending or receiving texts, did not cover other app use.

The decision was applied to the use of mapping apps, but throws open the door to other app uses that the current version of the law doesn't explicitly disallow. As a result, the law may later be modified to clarify what constitutes "distracted" but may also need to explicitly apply the behavior to vehicles in motion -- Steven Spriggs of Fresno, the plaintiff in the case, was allegedly stopped by a road work-based traffic jam when he accessed his smartphone in an attempt to find an alternate route, according to media reports.

The decision reversed a lower-court ruling, and may proceed on to the state's Supreme Court for resolution. The law was intended to stop the two biggest cellphone-based distractions to drivers, as well as other problems such as playing games or updating Facebook. The judges in the appeal found that the law in its present form doesn't go far enough in clarifying what is or isn't acceptable usage in certain situations. Spriggs arguably could have received the ticket for using the phone to dial 911 for witnessing an accident, under the previous interpretation of the statute.

Enforcement of a more broad interpretation of the law is likely to continue, as California tries to cut down on generally distracted driving, the state's second-leading cause of accidents behind alcohol/drug abuse. Defendants, however, may be able to employ the court's decision that the law is too narrowly crafted as a defense if they can show that they were not engaged in either of the specifically-prohibited activities -- at least until the law is either modified or complemented by additional offenses based on the overall concept of what constitutes "distracted" driving.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    Talk about yer letter of the law technicalities. Probably should be changed to prohibit ...using any personal electronic device for any purpose without a hands-free device for drivers...

  1. sunman42

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-09-11

    And where is the clinical/accident statistics evidence that fumbling with a phone or tablet's mapping app is more or less distracting than consulting a paper map or road atlas, where the info you want is always on the other side or a different page? And the paper maps never give you verbal, turn-by-turn instructions that allow you to avoid looking at the device again.

    More to the point, banning mobile device use for mapping while driving would mean all those Tom Tom and Magellan GPS devices, to say nothing of the built-in nav aids car manufacturers are upsetting these days, would have to be banned as well.

    Not a technicality at all, but a common sense ruling. As they say in legal Latin, res ipse loquitur.

  1. sunman42

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-09-11

    Er, thanks, auto-correct. Meant "upselling," not upsetting.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    Well fumbling with a map or road atlas while driving is covered as distracted driving. It's just that phone ubiquity is new to the car scene and as such required (apparently amending is not an option for most law makers) this to be on the books, and pushed in the press.
    Distracted driving can be caused by quite a lot of things. Lit cigarette butts in your lap, a hornet in the car with you, your map location is on the wrong fold, kids in the back seat throwing objects or violent tantrums.

    It's really all about how you "handle" these things that keeps you from getting a ticket for distracted driving or having an accident.
    The best approach is to pull over as soon as it's safe to do so, and take care of the issue before driving on. It's really not that hard folks.

    Signed,
    Mr. Safety ;)

  1. auto_immune

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 05-29-08

    He was sitting still - in a traffic jam. The CHP officer who wrote the citation is a jerk.

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