US & Canada

Court: No-phones traffic law does not apply to apps

The Google Maps app is seen on an Apple iPhone 4S in Fairfax, California 13 December 2012
Image caption The court ruled the statute's language, history and subsequent amendments led it to conclude the law "means what it says" and applies only to voice calls - not maps

A California law that bans drivers from talking on mobile phones without a hands-free device does not bar them looking at map apps, a court has ruled.

The appeals court threw out a traffic ticket issued to a motorist who was looking at a map on his phone while caught in a traffic jam.

But the man who brought the case says he is not in favour of motorists staring at screens while driving.

Steven Spriggs said he hoped that legislators would revisit the issue.

In January 2012, Mr Spriggs was stuck in traffic when he checked a map application on his iPhone to find an alternate route.

A California Highway Patrol officer spotted him and gave him a $165 (£99) ticket.


Mr Spriggs challenged the case in traffic court and later in a county court, before appealing to the state.

In their 18-page decision, the 5th Appeals Court of California said Mr Spriggs argued that "he did not violate the statute because he was not talking on the telephone".

"We agree," the court wrote. "Based on the statute's language, its legislative history, and subsequent legislative enactments, we conclude that the statute means what it says - it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it."

A separate California law bans texting while driving.

Mr Spriggs said he used a hands-free headset to talk while driving and that his son had suffered a broken leg from being struck by a motorist chatting on a mobile phone.

But he said the patrol officer and the courts had overreached by applying the law to his case.

"We're distracted all the time," he told the Associated Press. "If our distractions cause us to drive erratically, we should be arrested for driving erratically."

The state can appeal against the ruling to California's Supreme Court.

Nicholas Pacilio, a spokesman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, said the office was reviewing the ruling.

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