More than two years ago, Steven Spriggs, a Fresno, California resident fought a $165 ticket for using the map on his iPhone. He was ticketed under California’s law prohibiting cell phone use unless it is hands-free.
Since 2008, drivers eighteen years of age and over have been able to use only hands-free mobile phones. In 2009, California banned all drivers from using a mobile device to write, send, or read text messages.
Spriggs, a law school graduate, took a closer look at the law and decided that he did not violate it. Spriggs argued the state legislature didn’t intend to ban using wireless devices for anything except “talking and listening” without a hands-free device.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal, agreed and found that the law means what it says—that a driver cannot talk or text on a phone. No where in the law does it mention GPS. The lower court had ruled that the ban did include GPS devices, concluding that the ”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.”
The state senator who authored the bill also agreed with Spriggs and the court of appeals.
Sprigg’s once-small win is now big news for the entire State of California. Not only has he been contacted by drivers just like him in the same situation, he has also been contacted by the trucking industry and UPS headquarters.
While using a GPS while driving is not against the law, drivers must still use common sense. The case is not a license to start using any app or checking your email on your phone while on the road. You may still be ticketed for distracted driving. So you must use common sense. Spriggs was stopped in traffic when he was caught using his GPS.
If you are driving recklessly, you may be pulled over. A police officer may pull you over for anything he or she considers a distraction: applying makeup, drinking a coffee, handing a snack to your kids in the back seat, or fussing with a map. So if you know that you will need the GPS, set it before pulling out of the driveway.
The state may still appeal to the California Supreme Court, but that is unlikely. If you have gotten a ticket for using an app, you should contact a traffic ticket professional to get your ticket dismissed. It is unclear what will happen to people who have already paid fines for using an app.
Spriggs will now be getting his $165 back.