Smartphone Maps and Driving — Headed Up to a Higher Court?

California drivers know that our laws prohibit the handheld use of a cell phone while driving. We are not permitted to either text and drive or talk and drive holding our phones. But one man who was cited for checking a map while in the driver’s seat has taken his citation up to the California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District and thus far has won. The next stop for this case just might be the California Supreme Court. This issue has likely crossed readers minds prior to the case which we will discuss here. After all, what use are the maps on our phones if we cannot use them to actually get ourselves out of a jam when driving and in need of directions? Think about the days of paper maps, some of us might recall using those while in the driver’s seat. Obviously with great care.

For now, the law in California is that it is permissible for drivers to use their cell phone map feature while in the driver’s seat. The driver in the case was stuck in a traffic jam and when he picked up his phone to try to get out of that using his map function, he was cited by an observant California Highway Patrol officer. Although ticketed from this activity while in a traffic mess, the man argued that he should not have been cited. He lost his case in traffic court and then took the case to the Superior Court in Fresno and lost there as well. Some would have given up at that point, but this driver was not giving up.

The Fifth Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of him stating that in their opinion issued earlier this week that the law that the driver was cited under which prohibits holding a phone and talking or listening while driving should not prohibit the use of a map. Some might see this as wrong in the context of texting while driving because that is clearly similar to typing in the address or location on a map or using map functions while in the driver’s seat even when stopped. But the law that was used to cite this driver was actually one that says it is not legal to listen or talk on the phone while holding it.

Obviously there is some confusion that needs to be corrected and clarified. It seems likely that this issue will either be corrected by the legislature through an amendment or new law that clarifies this specific issue or be reviewed on appeal by the California Supreme Court. Time will tell whether the losing party in this case will file an appeal — that happens to be the California Attorney General’s office which now must decide whether to travel up the road with the driving while mapping question.

No matter what, driving distracted is prohibited in California. Texting or holding a phone to talk is a dangerous activity. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident involving a distracted driver, get help as soon as possible. Contact our law firm for a free evaluation of your situation. Getting legal support is the first step in recovering from a vehicle accident whether that crash involves a distracted driver or other circumstances.