Friday, February 28, 2014
Court of Appeal Rules:
Viewing GPS Map on Mobile Phone While Driving Not Illegal
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California law that bans using a cell phone to talk while driving, other than using a hands-free device, does not bar using the phone’s mapping function, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled.
Overturning a March 21 decision of the Fresno Superior Court Appellate Division, the court reversed Steven R. Spriggs conviction of violating Vehicle Code Sec. 23123(a).
The statute reads:
“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.”
Justice Herbert Levy, writing for the Court of Appeal, explained:
“Based on the statute’s language, its legislative history, and subsequent legislative enactments, we conclude that the statute means what it says – it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it.”
Spriggs was cited in January 2012 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 said that violated the statute, and the local appellate panel agreed.
Judge W. Kent Hamlin, writing for the Appellate Division, reasoned that the legislative intent was to avoid “the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone,” a distraction he said was present when the GPS function or any other application is used, as well as while in conversation.
Levy, however, said that interpretation could not be reconciled with the text.
“Had the Legislature intended to prohibit drivers from holding the telephone and using it for all purposes, it would not have limited the telephone’s required design and configuration to ‘hands-free listening and talking,’ but would have used broader language, such as ‘hands-free operation’ or ‘hands-free use.’ To interpret section 23123(a) as applying to any use of a wireless telephone renders the ‘listening and talking’ element nonsensical, as not all uses of a wireless telephone involve listening and talking, including looking at a map application.”
The legislative history, he went on to explain, strongly suggests that the Legislature was focused on conversations, and not on other potential uses of a cellphone, when it enacted the law in 2006.
Levy noted that mobile phones had far fewer uses when the bill was passed than they do today.
“The People’s interpretation of section 23123(a) – that the statute bans all hand-held use of wireless telephones – would lead to absurd results and is opposed to the legislative intent…. If the phrase ‘using a wireless telephone’ includes all conceivable uses, then it would be a statutory violation for a driver to merely look at the telephone’s display if the telephone was not designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking. It would also be a violation to hold the telephone in one’s hand, even if configured for hands-free listening and talking, and look at the time or even merely move it for use as a paperweight. The People do not point to anything in the legislative history to suggest the Legislature intended such a broad prohibition.”
The case is People v. Spriggs, 14 S.O.S. 992.
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