California appellate court clears reading maps on phones while driving

February 28, 2014
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The 5th District Court of Appeal of California ruled in favor of a driver who was fined for reading a map on his iPhone while behind a wheel. While the verdict is already somewhat surprising, the case itself has more turns than a long winding road.

The case actually started two years ago, on January 2012. The defendant, Steven Spriggs, was fined $165 when a California Highway Patrol officer saw him reading a map from his smartphone while stuck in traffic. While most people caught red-handed with a mobile device behind the wheel would have probably just swallowed their shame, Spriggs challenged the fine and lost, twice, in traffic court and in Fresno County Superior Court. They say third time's a charm, and so it seems that way when he took the case to the appellate court and won, with a little help from a law firm this time.

Almost ironically, Spriggs would be the last one to fight for the cause of people using cellphones while driving. His son suffered a broken leg precisely because of a driver yapping away on a cellphone. Spriggs' point, however, was not to really to say that he's innocent but to say that California's laws didn't apply to him and, consequently, should be updated to today's mobile habits. Luckily for him, the judges agreed.

The 18-page ruling of the appellate court judges said that while the state's laws prohibited people from talking and listening, and also texting, on a phone while driving, it only did so when not using hands free devices or modes, which Spriggs claims he was. But more importantly, it doesn't cover the act of looking at a digital representation of a map on the device, leaving the judges no choice but to hand Spriggs his court victory. They, however, also noted that the law should have been written more clearly. The burden now falls on California's lawmakers to look at this loophole and plug it before other mobile devices, like, say, smartwatches and smart glasses, become common place.

SOURCE: Associated Press


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