Steven Spriggs was pulled over and issued a $165 ticket in January of 2012. He was using his iPhone to look up a map, but the officer wrote out the ticket saying he violated Vehicle Code 23123 which pertains to talking on a phone without a hands free kit. Specifically 23123 (a):
(a) 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.
Of course most of what happens on our phones isn’t necessarily tied to talking anymore. The 5th District Court of Appeals sided with Spriggs, stating that this part of the vehicle code could have been worded clearer, and that it did not pertain to looking at maps.
We’ve won one small victory for common sense, however there are still plenty of reasons to exercise caution while utilizing your phone for navigation and communication while operating a motor vehicle.
The first of which is simply taking your eyes off the road. In this day and age, with as many people who have been affected by distracted driving, that this still continues to not only plague us, but get worse is reprehensible. Obviously using your phone like I’m holding it in the pic for this article is a “No-No”.
Second, there’s still a ton of officer discretion involved in enforcing the state’s vehicle code. If you’re holding your phone to look up a map, it sure does look similar to how you might hold your phone to look up a contact. Even with the courts acknowledging a difference in operation, it’s still on the driver/smartphone owner to not operate their phone in a manner completely resembling a “dirt-bag” (see again my first point). I would highly recommend investing in some kind of mount which will display the phone in a fashion similar to old school GPS units. Police officers are far more familiar with that set up, and it’ll be much clearer what you’re trying to accomplish.
Third, there are still some concerns with other laws and technology in the car. Even mounting the phone, and operating it hands free, we still might fall prey to Vehicle Code 27602, which was written when in-dash DVD players were becoming popular:
(a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle if a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, or any other similar means of visually displaying a television broadcast or video signal that produces entertainment or business applications, is operating and is located in the motor vehicle at a point forward of the back of the driver’s seat, or is operating and the monitor, screen, or display is visible to the driver while driving the motor vehicle.
How auto manufacturers are allowed to build in touchscreens packed full of infotainment into their cars, but Cecilia Abadie can get a ticket for using Google Glass is beyond me.
Now VC 27602 specifically mentions mapping and GPS displays as being allowed, but of course our phones can do ALL SORTS of things, and it might only take one pop up alert to change what’s happening on that screen. Regardless of what you might actually be doing on your phone, what you can demonstrate to a judge, an officer has a lot of leeway to issue a ticket under this law.
We’ve taken one small step forward, but we still have a ways to go…