Wednesday, April 10, 2013

CA Court Rules: U Can't Touch This [Cell Phone While Driving]

An appellate court in Fresno recently took up the question of what it means to "use" a cell phone while driving.

Section 23123 of the California Vehicle Code reads as follows:

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. (Section 23123.5 specifically addresses texting while driving).

The facts of the case were undisputed: Steven Spriggs, the appellant, had been cited for using his phone's map application while driving.  In January of 2012, Mr. Spriggs was stuck in a traffic jam caused by road construction.  He reached for his iPhone and pulled up the map application to check traffic on alternative routes.  A highway patrolman spotted Mr. Spriggs holding the phone and glancing at the device's screen, and  Mr. Spriggs was cited for violating VC 23123 -- "using" a wireless telephone while driving.

Mr. Spriggs appealed his traffic citation on the grounds that he was not "using" a phone, he was simply looking at a map.  The legislature, he argued, intended to prohibit electronic communication, not map glancing.  It would be more distracting, but perfectly legal, to unfold a Thomas Guide while driving.  Why should a small, digital map be treated differently than a large, paper map?  The court was unmoved.

Citing the legislative history of the statute, the court found that "the primary evil sought to be avoided was the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone.  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...If the Legislature had intended to limit the application of the statute to 'conversing' or 'listening and talking', as appellant maintains, it could have done so."

Did you hear that?  The court found that you may be cited for using your phone as a clock while driving.  Even glancing at the time on your phone is now punishable by a $159 ticket (a $25 fine + court costs, mandatory state penalty assessments, etc. = $159+).

On the bright side, the state should be closing its massive budget deficit any day now...