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California Appeals Court Bans Drivers From Using Smartphone Maps

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iPhone 4 map appA recent California appellate court decision bans drivers from looking at smartphone maps. The facts are as follows, according to
Robin Abcarian in a commentary in the Los Angeles TimesL.A. NOW.

On January 5, 2012, Steven R. Spriggs, a 58-year-old professional development officer at Fresno State University, was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol and cited for driving while using a wireless phone. At the time, Spriggs was in stop-and-go traffic caused by road construction on California 41 near the 180 interchange, which Abcarian calls “basically the middle of Fresno.” It was 6 p.m. and dark out, and Spriggs had picked up his iPhone 4 to look at the map app to see if he could avoid traffic by getting off at the next exit, Abcarian writes.

On April 26, 2012, Spriggs brought a paper map into Fresno County Superior Court to fight the ticket, saying it would be more distracting for a driver to look at that than a smartphone map, but lost. A former law student, he then filed his own appeal, but after several months, learned he had lost the appeal as well.

Abcarian writes:

A three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of Fresno County Superior Court found on March 21 that Spriggs had violated the California law that prohibits distracted driving.

‘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,’ wrote Judge W. Kent Hamlin. ‘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.’

Ironically, Spriggs is very much in favor of laws to prevent distracted driving, Abcarian writes. He told Abcarian that his own son was hit on his bike by a distracted driver on a cellphone, and “[…] still suffers daily because of that injury.”

Spriggs questioned why it is illegal to look at a cellphone screen and yet legal to “futz around with your dashboard video screen.” He said he would like to appeal the decision but cannot do it on his own.

Eric Zeman writes for Information Week that the facts in the case are not in dispute, and that Spriggs was indeed holding his wireless phone and using it while driving. The appeals court’s new interpretation of the existing law “more or less outlaws practically all possible uses of wireless telephones in the state of California while driving a motor vehicle — including the use of smartphones as navigation devices,” Zeman writes. He notes that the existing code does imply that wireless phones can still be used for navigation if drivers use them with hands-free configurations.

Someone named David Pokras (brother of this writer) who read about this appellate decision offered the following comment: “If Steven Spriggs had simply pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway with his hazard lights on, or to a rest area, he would not have been issued a ticket. There’s always a place to pull over, for example, with a disabled car.”

However, like Spriggs, Pokras questions why a dashboard display would be considered any less distracting. Pokras said his own Prius has a holographic display that a driver controls through the steering wheel and that hovers in the air:

If you’re concentrating on that hologram, you would never notice when a driver in front of you is braking unexpectedly. The first time I saw the hologram display, because it was never mentioned to me by the dealer, I thought I was seeing things, because you never expect to see something like that.

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