Drivers in California can legally read a map on their hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 5th District Court of Appeal reversed the case of Steven Spriggs, a Fresno man who was ticketed in January 2012 for looking at a map on his iPhone 4 while stuck in traffic. Spriggs challenged the $165 fine.
The incident that entrapped Spriggs happened when he was stopped by roadwork. He was grabbing his cellphone and trying to find an alternate route when a California Highway Patrol officer spotted him and wrote him a ticket.
Spriggs first challenged the case in traffic court, where he lost, and then appealed it himself to a three-judge panel in Fresno County Superior Court, where he lost a second time. Confident the law didn’t apply to him, Spriggs took it to the appellate court, but this time with help of a law firm that stepped in to represent him pro bono.
In the 18-page ruling, the appellate judges said California’s law that prohibits people from talking on their cellphones without a hands-free device could have been written more clearly, but it doesn’t apply to looking at maps on cellphones. The law the CHP officer used to ticket Spriggs applies specifically to people “listening and talking” on cellphones, not using their mobile phone in other ways, the court said.
Spriggs, who is entitled to recoup his $165 fine, said the Superior Court judges who had upheld his violation were guilty of overreaching by applying the spotty law to him.