Using cellphone as GPS not subject to Calif. driving law, court rules

A motorist appears to be texting while driving, which is a violation of California traffic safety laws. An appellate court has ruled that using a cellphone for directions while driving is legal.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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Talk or text you may not, but looking at maps on your cellphone while driving is legal, a California appellate court ruled Thursday.

The 5th District Court of Appeal sided with a Fresno man who received a $165 ticket when he consulted a map application on his phone, looking for an alternate route around a traffic jam. Steven Spriggs unsuccessfully challenged the ticket in traffic court and later in Superior Court, arguing the law prohibited only talking on the phone, not looking at a map.

Judges on the appellate court reversed the lower court, writing that the law was not intended to impose a blanket ban on any cellphone use. They noted that when the law was enacted in 2006, no one used their phones for much more than conversation. (The first iPhone debuted in 2007.)


Attorneys for the state had argued the law, which prohibits “using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking,” outlaws any use of a phone that is “hands-on.”

The judges disagreed, writing that such a broad interpretation of the law would lead to “absurd results.”

“Then it would be a statutory violation for a driver to merely look at the telephone’s display,” they wrote in the 18-page opinion. “It would also be a violation to hold the telephone in one’s hand … and look at the time or even merely move it for use as a paperweight.”