Using your cell phone in any way while driving in California has been illegal since 2011. California Vehicle Code Section 23123 states that all drivers using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle can be punished by fines of $20, which increases to $50 with each subsequent violation. In addition, California state penalty assessments and various fees and surcharges are applied, resulting in a $165 fine for a first offense and a $285 for a subsequent offense.
Our cell phones seem like an extension of our bodies at times, keeping us in contact with our loved ones and helping us get to our destinations with built-in GPS. Combine that with the long hours of driving, which have become commonplace for Southern California residents, and you have a recipe for violating cell phone use while driving laws.
Fortunately, some changes have been made to the law. While texting, talking or listening with a cell phone that is not hands-free while driving is still illegal, the California Supreme Court has finally made a ruling on the issue of using your phone as a GPS device.
Steven Spriggs and Vehicle Code Section 23123
Steven Spriggs was recently stuck in heavy traffic. He pulled his phone out and used its map application to find a less congested route. A California Highway Patrol officer spotted him doing this and gave him a traffic citation for violating Vehicle Code Section 23123.
He contested this citation before Fresno County Superior Court but his $165 fine stood. The patrol officer who gave him the citation stated that looking at a map on his cell phone while holding it in his hand was a violation of VC 23123. The traffic court commissioner agreed.
Spriggs appealed this conviction ((2013) 215 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1). He stated that California Vehicle Code Section 23123 prohibits listening and talking on the phone while holding it in one hand. By not talking or listening and simply using his phone’s map application, Spriggs felt that he was not violating the Vehicle Code.
The appellate court needed to decide if California Vehicle Code Section 23123 included other forms of cell phone use while driving besides talking or listening. The law says that “a driver may not use a cell phone unless it is used in a hands-free manner.” While the court felt that the word “used” includes all forms of cell phone use (texting, GPS, etc.), they also agreed that a reasonable person could interpret “used” as only talking or listening.
Based on the language, the appellate court agreed with Spriggs, that he did not violate VC 23123. They also concluded that it only prohibits listening and talking with a non-hands-free cellular phone while driving.
What the Spriggs Decision Means For You
With the law now being much more specific, you can no longer be cited for using your cell phone’s GPS. The judges in Spriggs’s decision felt that the law was being interpreted too broadly and could lead to citations for simply holding your phone in one hand while driving.
You can still be cited for texting and driving and talking on a phone that is not hands-free if a patrol officer catches you, but using your maps application is legal. This however, raises questions about other applications. For instance:
- Can you view your cell phone’s photo album while driving?
- How about checking your Facebook feed?
- Can you check the score of the Lakers game?
With technology still evolving, so is the law. A skilled attorney with experience handling these types of traffic violations can help you understand and fight your citation.
What do you think about this recent court ruling? Do you use your smartphone while driving for purposes other than talking or texting? Please let us know how you feel about this court ruling.