Drivers can read maps on their smartphones, says California court

An appeals court in California has ruled that reading maps on your smartphone while driving is legal. Setting a precedent for future legislation, the decision puts mapping software outside the state law that prohibits the use of a cellphone in a car without a hands-free device.

The 5th District Court of Appeal was looking at the case of Fresno man Steven Spriggs, fined $165 for checking his mapping app while stuck in traffic at roadworks. California’s distraction-free driving laws came into force in 2009, but police officers are required to get visual confirmation of what a driver is doing on the phone before issuing citations.

Maps and navigation apps are now officially in the clear, though drivers are still required to keep their focus on the road no matter what’s on their phone screen. “We’re distracted all the time,” Spriggs told the Associated Press. “If our distractions cause us to drive erratically, we should be arrested for driving erratically.”

After failing in two appeals (the most recent of which we reported on Digital Trends last year), Spriggs received help from a law firm which took on his case free of charge. The third appeal has now gone in his favor, and he can recoup the money paid for the fine. Spriggs’ argument was not that driving while checking a map app is always safe, but that current legislation did not apply to the way he was using his phone.

In its ruling the court said the law in question referred to listening and talking on cellphones without the aid of a hands-free kit and did not necessarily apply to use of a mapping application. Spriggs and his attorney have called on the authorities to pass new legislation that clarifies exactly how Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze et al can be used safely and legally on the move.

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