Is It Illegal to Use Map Apps While Driving?

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Centurion Studio /

In California it’s illegal to use a mobile phone without a headset while driving.

Steven Spriggs was pulled over and ticketed in January 2012 for using a map application on his smartphone while driving.

He protested. The court found against him. He appealed. And at the end of March the appellate court found that Spriggs had in fact broken the law by looking at a map on his phone while driving.

Although the statute refers in one section to use of “a wireless telephone” and in another to “an electronic wireless communications device,” the court held that the ban on phone use applied to digital maps. The court reasoned that the purpose of the law was to prevent inattention while driving.

“This strikes me as very puzzling kind of statutory interpretation,” wrote cyberlaw expert Orin Kerr on a legal blog.

“The fact that the legislature was worried about distracted drivers in enacting the first ban doesn’t tell us whether the statute enacted should apply to all things that distract drivers or only some things,” he wrote.

It is not illegal to consult a paper map or a GPS in-dash “mapping display” while driving in California.

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