As we all know (myself from expensive personal experience), it is illegal to talk on the phone while driving a car. And as all of us — well, all of us except the California Supreme Court — also know, a modern ‘smart’ phone is a lot more than a telephone.
A smart phone can make calls, hands-free or otherwise. More importantly, a smart phone can play music through a car stereo and provide turn-by-turn directions for the driver. What it can’t do is play music through a car stereo or provide turn-by-turn directions for the driver (or anything else) if the driver touches the phone.
According to the Appellate Division charged with reining in Fresno County, if you use your hand to use your cellphone for directions or music or anything at all while you’re driving, you’re breaking the law. Per the court, “[o]ur review of the statute’s plain language leads us to conclude that the primary evil sought to be avoided is the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone. That distraction would be present whether the wireless telephone was being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails.”
According to Commissioner Lawrence Ornell of Sonoma County traffic court, there “was considerable disagreement … on how the law applied to the use of a smart phone for purposes other than as a traditional ‘cellphone.’” And according to Commissioner Ornell, that confusion is now gone. Using a navigation device held in your hand is OK; using navigation on your Galaxy Note is not. Cranking tunes on an iPod is OK; cranking tunes on an iPhone is not.
What’s the answer, then? What’s a law abiding citizen who wants to listen to his or her lawyer to do? Well, Mr. Spriggs “was cited for looking at a map on his cellular phone while holding the phone in his hand.” The question was whether that conduct violated Vehicle Code section 23123 (a), which states that “[a] person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.”
Using the regular radio in your car isn’t illegal. Using GPS in your car isn’t illegal, and apparently looking at a map on your phone isn’t illegal unless you’re holding the phone. Buy a good mount for your phone, get hands-free dialing set up, and drive carefully. And watch your six — Smokey is everywhere, and the government is hungry.