Texting & Map-Checking Are Equally Distracting & Illegal In California

April 9, 2013

When you're behind the wheel, do you rely on your smartphone to get from Point A to Point B? If so, we have some potentially bad news.

In January of 2012, a California driver was ticketed for using his cell phone while driving. (California, like several other states, prohibits drivers from using their phones except in hands-free mode.)

Not content merely to pay the fine and be done with it, the driver went to court, arguing that he wasn't texting or talking on the phone at the time of the incident, but instead using a navigation app. The judge found him guilty anyway.

The man appealed, but late last month, he was handed another loss, The appeals court decided that using apps like Google Maps (or, for the daring, Apple Maps) was no different than texting or dialing a phone number under California law:

Our review of the statute's plain language leads us to conclude that the primary evil sought to be avoided is the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone. That distraction would be present whether the wireless telephone was being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails.

In other words, it doesn't matter what a driver is doing with her phone in California: whether she's texting or getting traffic info, if she's manually interacting with the device, it's a violation of state law.

From where we sit, that makes complete sense. If you're looking away from the road, you're looking away from the road. Though the letter of California's law may prohibit texting and taking calls, its spirit is meant to prevent distractions of all sorts.

And in practical terms, setting different standards for different cell phone-related activities would be tough for law enforcement. Should a police officer really get involved in determining whether a driver was texting or checking a map?

Legal eagles can read a complete PDF of the appellate court ruling here.

[via Joel Feder]


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