California Court: “Checking Maps While Driving” Is Illegal

A judge in a California court has decided that checking at mobile maps while driving is just as illegal as texting while driving. This decision could send a ripple effect across the country.

The ruling, which was issued late last month and made widely known today through social media, says handling a cell phone while driving, even if the driver is just checking its map application is a crime in in the Golden State. The decision is from a court case where a man was cited for violation of Section 23123 of the California Vehicle Code, all because he was checking the map in his smartphone while on the wheel.

The defense team argued that the section’s language implied that it is only limited to drivers who hold a cell phone to converse while driving. And since checking maps while driving does not involve any conversing, he shouldn’t have been issued a ticket.

The section says, “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.”

However, Judge W. Kent Hamlin of the Superior Court of California, County of Fresno, disagreed with the defense. He wrote: “Our 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 e-mails.

The judge also explained that the court had reviewed prior versions of the section to get a clear description of the law’s intent. He quote State Assembly analysis of the legislation that said the law is intended to prevent distractions, in particular: “the physical distraction of motorist encounters when either picking up the phone, punching the number keypad, holding the phone up to his or her ear to converse, or pushing a button to end a call. Such distraction, the judge wrote, would remain present if the cell phone is used for purposes other than carrying on a conversation.

The defendant also argued that a later update to the Vehicle Code, Section 23123.5, is geared toward texting on an “electronic wireless communications device,” thus proving his claim that the law was limited to cell phone conversations.

The court, however, ruled that the later statute was aimed at expanding the regulations to include more-recent devices into the code, such as smartphones. It also pointed out the original statute that had still been “designed to prohibit the ‘hands-on’ use of the phone while driving, without limitation.”

The ruling has been been debated among legal and tech experts. One side argues that there are a lot of other distractions apart from electronic devices drivers face on the road, such as screaming babies or dropped pacifiers. That does not mean there should be a law against screaming kids in the backseat. The ruling acknowledge this position, adding that is a matter for lawmakers–not the courts–to decide.

In the meantime while in California, do not check maps while driving to avoid trouble with the law.

Source:, via CNET

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