Looking at your cellphone while driving should be illegal too

Looking at your cellphone while driving should be illegal too
A motorist appears to be texting, which is illegal -- but perhaps is just checking a map app, which is not -- while driving through an intersection in Beverly Hills. (Los Angeles Times)

You can't talk or text while driving in California. But if you want to use a map or some other app on your smartphone, that's OK. At least for now.

The 5th District Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that the California Highway Patrol was wrong to ticket a Fresno man for driving and holding his smartphone to look at a map.


The court was totally right. The Vehicle Code says a driver can't hold a wireless telephone while talking or listening on it. The law makes no mention of holding the phone to look at a map or do any other sort of functional thing that smartphones are now capable of. (There is a separate law that specifically bans texting unless using hands-free technology, so typing a text from behind the wheel will still get you a ticket.)

So, looking at a map on your smartphone while driving doesn't violate the law, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea or safe. The driver's eyes and attention are not on the road, and there's often some typing involved with setting the map destination. How is that so different from talking or texting?

The question is: Should legislators develop a law that more broadly bans handling a smartphone while driving? A bill that would encompass using maps or other apps that require typing or looking at the device?

Steven Spriggs, the Fresno man whose $165 ticket for using the map on an iPhone led to the ruling, told the Associated Press that drivers were distracted all the time.

"If our distractions cause us to drive erratically, we should be arrested for driving erratically."

The problem is that there are far too few officers on the roads to pull over every person who drives erratically. But, the fear of an expensive ticket can prevent a lot of erratic behavior before it starts.

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