Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Page 1


Court Says Using Cell Phone GPS While Driving Is Illegal


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The California law that bans using a cell phone to text or talk while driving also bars using the mapping function of the device, the Fresno Superior Court Appellate Division has ruled in a published opinion.

The March 21 decision was published on the state courts’ website yesterday after the Fifth District Court of Appeal declined to consider the appeal by Steven R. Spriggs. Spriggs was cited in January of last year by a California Highway Patrol officer who said the motorist was viewing a map while holding his phone in his hand.

Fresno Superior Court Commissioner Jeffrey Bird found Spriggs guilty of violating Vehicle Code Sec. 23123(a), which says:

“A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.”

Judge W. Kent Hamlin, writing for the Appellate Division, agreed that viewing a map on a cell phone while driving violates the statute.

“Our review of the statute’s plain language leads us to conclude that the primary evil sought to be avoided is the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone,” he said. “That distraction would be present whether the wireless telephone was being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails.”

Hamlin cited the legislative history, including a committee report that said the law was intended “to improve reaction time in the event of an emergency by requiring both hands to be on the wheel.” If the Legislature had only been concerned about phone conversations, as Spriggs—who represented himself on appeal—contended, it could have limited the proscription to “conversing” or to “listening and talking,” the judge said.

The judge acknowledged that after enacting the statute, the Legislature revisited the issue and passed a new law extending the prohibition to communications devices that are not “wireless telephones,” and that the author of Sec. 23123(a) suggested at that time that the expanded legislation would be more difficult to enforce because it was “relatively easy for a law enforcement officer to see a driver holding a cell phone up to his or her ear.”

But that did not mean that using a cell phone for a purpose other than having a conversation was not intended to be a violation, Hamlin concluded.

“There is…no evidence in the legislative history… that would support the conclusion that those who voted in support of that bill, including its author, understood or intended the bill to be so limited in its application when it was passed,” the jurist wrote. “To the contrary, the legislative history set out above suggests that the bill was designed to prohibit the ‘hands-on’ use of the phone while driving, without limitation. “

The case is People v. Spriggs, 13 S.O.S. 1681.


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