Do cellphone distracted driver laws go too far? Court will decide

A motorist appears to be texting while driving through Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards in Beverly Hills.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Is it legal to read your smartphone map while driving?

We’ll know soon enough.


The Case of the Distracted Driver is heading to California’s 5th District Court of Appeal.

On Wednesday, the court said it would take up an appeal filed by Steven Spriggs, the Cal State Fresno fundraiser who was ticketed in January 2012 by a California Highway Patrol officer for looking at his iPhone map while stopped in a highway traffic jam. Spriggs lost in traffic court and again in his local court’s appeal division.

But he decided to fight on.

“Everyone is distracted all the time while driving,” he told me. He believes in the law, but thinks drivers who demonstrate that they are distracted should get the $159 ticket, not drivers who are simply holding a phone and looking at it.


The court said it would settle the matter of “whether a person driving a motor vehicle while holding a wireless telephone and looking at or checking a map application on the wireless telephone, violates Vehicle Code section 23123.” That is the law that specifically outlaws talking on the phone or texting while driving, but does not address the myriad other uses of a smartphone.

Fresno appellate attorney Scott Reddie has offered to represent Spriggs for free, though Spriggs will be on the hook for what may be “significant out of pocket costs” like research expenses for the brief. “This latest financial hurdle will not deter me,” he told me in an email today.


Since I wrote about his case, Spriggs said, he has received an outpouring of support. “The tech industry, the Teamsters drivers, the insurance industry, the law enforcement industry, the Libertarians and lots of little people seem to have a dog in this fight.”


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