In January 2012, Steve R. Spriggs was cited for violating California code 23123. That code reads, "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."
Spriggs wasn't talking on his telephone, however. Nor was he sending text messages, surfing the Internet or reading email. Instead, he was using it as a GPS device for navigation purposes. According to the officer who cited Spriggs, he was holding the smartphone in his hand while driving and navigating.
The facts in the case are not in dispute. Spriggs was indeed holding his wireless telephone and using it while driving. Spriggs argued that the way the law is written implies only talking/listening are forbidden, and other activities, such as navigating, are not.
The appeals court didn't see it that way. Its new interpretation of the existing law more or less outlaws practically all possible uses of wireless telephones in the state of California while driving a motor vehicle -- including the use of smartphones as navigation devices. But there is some leeway. The existing code, as written, implies that wireless telephones can still be used as navigation devices with hands-free listening configurations.
[ Recent study shows business professionals are texting while driving at alarming rates. See Texting While Driving: Teens Not Top Offenders. ]
Consider this scenario. You're sitting in your employer's parking lot and need to get to a meeting across town. You have a cradle that holds your smartphone. Put it in the cradle, enter the coordinates needed to get to your meeting, and set the device to provide voice-guided (i.e., spoken) turn-by-turn directions. In this case, you're not touching or holding the device, you're only listening to it while navigating. That could be a viable use case that allows for smartphone-based navigation in California.
Even so, the new interpretation of California code by this particular appeals court makes it even more likely to be cited if caught holding a cell phone while driving. The intent behind the law is to prevent drivers from becoming distracted by the devices, which is the real problem.
The National Safety Council notes, "There is no research or evidence that indicates voice-activated technologies eliminate or even reduce the distraction to the drivers' mind."
Distractions in the car can lead to crashes. Crashes can result in property damage, property loss, injury and death -- not to mention liability and lawsuits. If your company operates in California, make sure your employees understand this new interpretation of the law.
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