Many states, California included, have passed strict laws in recent years meant to reduce distracted driving caused by cell phones. However, the laws lag behind the technology, and that has led to some conflicting opinions on what the statutes mean. After some legal wrangling, a California court of appeals has ruled that it is not illegal to use mapping software while driving.


The case stems from a ticket issued to a driver back in 2012. Steven Spriggs of Fresno was ticketed $165 for using maps on his phone while behind the wheel. Rather than pay the ticket, he contested it and lost. He appealed and lost again. Now finally – vindication. The district court of appeals points out the law only prohibits "listening and talking" on a phone while driving.

The state could still appeal to a higher court, but it's not likely people are going to stop using mapping and navigation on their phones. No one knows how to get anywhere on their own anymore.


Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play.

  • bungadudu

    The spirit of the law is that you are not allowed to intentionally do something that distracts you from driving (using maps, eating, sex, talking on the phone etc).

    • remister

      How about having a friend in the car while giving you instructions?

      • bungadudu

        All is judged on a case by case basis.
        Thing is people can't concentrate on more than one task at any given time. (very very small percent can). We fool ourself thinking the contrary but the brain actually alternates the thoughts very fast. And in some cases, behind the wheel, even that speed is not fast enough and a few hundreds of seconds can make the difference.

    • http://bostongreekgeek.com/ bostongreekgeek

      woahwoahwo there...you cant have sex while driving..what crazy law is that?

      I thought this was 'Murica.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2zlPNGuPbw

    • squiddy20

      And yet, we have FM/AM radios, CD players, Bluetooth, in-car infotainment centers, and dozens of other things that distract us from driving. Why do we even have them?

      • Matthew Merrick

        Let's not forget the biggest distraction while driving of them all: children

    • watwat

      That would mean you could never transport children via automobile. At least a cell phone is predictable and it waits for your input

  • rbaggio

    what is the difference between a phone maps and a built in GPS in the car.

    • remister

      The GPS in the car can be louder.

      • brkshr

        Not if you have the phone going through bluetooth... just sayin.

        • Sorian

          ...or using the aux plug on the radio.

    • squiddy20

      Exactly. We've had standalone GPS units in cars for over a decade (which can be just as much of a distraction) and they're just now getting around to saying nav apps on cell phones are ok. Ridiculous.

      • Matthew Merrick

        Yeah, and do you know what's WAY more distracting than either of those?

        Have you ever been in a car with someone trying to make sense of a paper map while driving? I'd rather be in a car with a drunk.

        • squiddy20

          Actually, yeah I have. And it wasn't too different than a GPS app. In fact, I've also navigated via a paper map (while someone else was driving of course), and it wasn't that difficult.

          • Matthew Merrick

            That's the key part - while someone else was driving. I was talking about the driver trying to figure out their location can destination with a paper map _while still on the freeway_, which is something I've experienced too many times.

          • http://dennisbareis.com/ Dennis Bareis

            You must have had a good navigator, my wife and I were always having arguments and lack of good street signs make it more dangerous than a GPS or phone.

    • mikeym0p

      I agree, they also bypass the lock-screen in most cases. it's much more at a glance then texting. Usually the voice guidance is enough too.

  • ddpacino

    Taking your eyes off the road for ANY reason is not safe. If it's not safe to text or call while driving, it's not safe to look down at a map app either. At least when you Talk on a phone, you can keep your eyes up on the road and not in your lap or dash.

    With Google Glass, something that can keep your eyes somewhat on the road... they want to try to ban this?! Lawmakers are so bullshit and stupid.

    • Matt

      They should ban blinking and looking at your speedometer if taking your eyes off the road for ANY reason is not safe.

      • Justin W

        Don't forget radio. According to this, listening to something is also distracting.

      • idiot

        Yes, because humans go blind when they blink.

  • Elislurry

    Well if this were held up they would have to outlaw buying a Tesla, the entire dash is a giant touchscreen with all kinds of features.

    • Sorian

      Not just Tesla. Consider how many cars have navigation center consoles as standard equipment. And the aftermarket radios with Nav included. Garmin and Tomtom. It would have been a huge fight and a sharp loss in sales for all these companies.

  • hldc1

    Legislators and cops love to rag on cell phone users, but I don't see any likelihood of the government banning eating whilst driving.

    People talk about talking and driving being dangerous? Try telling yourself that you're safe on the road the next time you see a dude in the car next to you wolfing down a cheeseburger/chicken nuggets/fries/milkshake all at the same time. For a bonus, maybe he'll be having a smoke, too.

    • Sorian

      Not keeping up with the Cali law, but it was in regards to holding the phone and talking, I think they still allow hands-free talking. But yes, I have seen someone reading a newspaper at the same time as driving on the highway. *shudders*

      • hldc1

        When I was in college, I remember driving to school one day in the morning on the freeway and I saw a woman doing her makeup, drinking coffee, eating a salad, and smoking all at the same time. She had the visor down, a cup of coffee on the dash, a salad in her lap, and a cigarette in her hand.

        But no talking on the cell phone. That's bad.

  • Doug Ford

    What torques me more than anything is seeing holier than thou ("that law doesn't apply to police") cops yaking on the phone and being just as bad as all the other boneheads on the road.

    • http://volumeboy-man.bandcamp.com/ VBM

      You failed to mention the giant laptops they have. It's probably used as a GPS or when at a traffic stop but, I bet that some use them while driving so they don't have to run code just to check plates. Plus some police vehicles have stand-alone GPS.

  • http://joshuapritt.com/ Joshua Pritt

    "listening and talking"...so i cant listen to podcasts and give voice commands? the law is so weak.

  • Obama’s_Tranny_Wife

    California is a horrible state, full of liberals and homos

    • Unknown182

      At least we're not filled (completely) with bigots like yourself

      • Obama’s_Tranny_Wife

        LOL seriously? Liberals and homosexuals are the biggest closeted bigots, haters and intolerant mofos you will ever meet. Trust me. White liberals are the most racist because they think they can relate to and think like black people and have ruined the black community by telling them they can't accomplish anything because of their skin color, that they are being held down, and that they need government assistance.

  • Humberto Cristobal

    Sad but true I can't even find my car in the parking lot sometimes lol

  • Khalil Kosa