Court says it’s legal to look at map on phone while driving

A motorist appears to be texting, while driving thru the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards in Beverly Hills.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Talk or text you may not, but it is legal for drivers to look at maps on their cellphones while on the road, 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 had unsuccessfully fought the ticket in traffic court and later in Superior Court, arguing that the law only prohibited 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 use of a cellphone. They noted that when the law was enacted in 2006, no one used their phones for much other than conversation. (The first iPhone debuted in 2007.)

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


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.”



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