California interprets “distracted driver” statute to prohibit using maps on cellphone

by Chris Scott on April 8, 2013

A Court of Appeals in California has ruled that it violates their distracted driver statute for a driver to access his maps app on his cellphone while 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. 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… Because it is undisputed that appellant used his wireless telephone while holding it in his hand as he drove his vehicle, his conduct violated Vehicle Code section 23123, subdivision (a).

This is going to lead to all sorts of interesting related issues. For example, how is this any different that a driver punching an address into a dedicated GPS unit? What about typing letters on a similar device, perhaps looking for a playlist on an iPod? The Court acknowledges as much:

It may be argued that the Legislature acted arbitrarily when it outlawed all “hands-on” use of a wireless telephone while driving, even though the legal use of one‟s hands to operate myriad other devices poses just as great a risk to the safety of other motorists.

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