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When it comes to distracted driving in CA, map apps not included

The issue of driver distraction is a big one in California and the rest of the country. Nearly every state has some sort of law on the books aimed at curbing cellphone use. The scope of restrictions may vary, but the focus tends to be on limiting cellphone chatting or texting.

The rationale for such laws is apparent. If someone is too busy talking or texting on the phone, they're not focused on the road. When drivers get reckless and distracted, the potential for a car accident that leaves someone severely injured or killed is high. Those responsible should expect to be held accountable.

But, as a California appeals court recently ruled, restrictions on cellphones does not apply to using the map function on smartphones while behind the wheel.

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel in the state's 5th District threw out a distracted driving ticket issued two years ago to a 59-year-old Fresno-area man.

As the story goes, the man was driving in January 2012 and got stuck in evening rush hour traffic. He decided to look for an alternate route on his smartphone. A California Highway Patrol officer spotted the glow of the app and pulled the man over and issued him a ticket for distracted driving.

The driver fought the $165 fine on his own in two lower courts and lost. When he got to the 5th District, an attorney helped and the decision went his way.

The court ruled that when lawmakers passed the distracted driving law in 2006, map use wasn't even an available function. The judges said it thus only restricted talking and listening unless the phone was hands free. A bill passed in 2009 further banned texting.

If the state doesn't appeal, the current decision will take effect in about 40 days from the ruling.

The defendant and his attorney make clear that they never maintained that reading a map on a phone while driving is necessarily safe practice, only that it is not prohibited under the current law. It could well be that such a ban may be issued if it is ever shown to be a safety hazard. 

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Court says reading smartphone map while driving is not a crime," Robin Abcarian, Feb. 28, 2014

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