An appeals court in California has told drivers they can view maps on a smartphone while driving.
The ruling was handed down on Thursday by the Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District, in Fresno – and reverses an earlier case against a man, Steven Spriggs, who was given a ticket for looking at a map on his mobe.
California driving law states [PDF] that: "It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communication device to write, send, or read text messages, instant messages, and emails unless you are 18 years of age or older and using an electronic wireless communications device designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, or listen to text-based communications when operating a vehicle."
Under this interpretation of the law, Spriggs had been given a $165 fine in January 2012: while stopped in heavy traffic, Spriggs pulled out his phone in his vehicle to check a map app for a new route. But he was spotted by a California Highway Patrol cop, who issued him a ticket for violating Vehicle Code section 23123.
The driver challenged the ticket in traffic court and lost, then tried again in Fresno County Superior Court, where he lost again. After that Spriggs took his fight to the appellate court, which ultimately sided with him, reversing the judgment.
"Based on the legislative history of section 23123 and the statute's language, as well as the Legislature’s subsequent enactments of sections 23123.5 and 23124, we conclude that section 23123(a) does not prohibit all hand-held uses of a wireless telephone. Instead, it prohibits 'listening and talking' on the wireless telephone unless the telephone is used in a hands-free mode," the court wrote in its decision [PDF].
"Accordingly, Spriggs did not violate the statute when he held his cellular telephone in his hand and looked at a map application while driving and his conviction must be reversed."
Though Californians may breathe a sigh of relief at the opinion as it provides them protection against over-enthusiastic cops, there's already trouble brewing for adopters of a succeeding technology, Google Glass.
In October a woman was pulled over and cited for wearing the expensive techno-goggles while driving, but the ticket was dismissed in January on the grounds the device wasn't switched on at the time.
Still, seven US states are investigating a ban of wearable computers while driving due to safety concerns. ®