Court Says California Drivers Can Read Cellphone Maps While Driving


Ca 5th District Court of Appeals

The California 5th District Court of Appeal reversed a conviction of a Fresno man who was ticketed in January 2012 for looking at a map on his phone while stuck in traffic. The driver, Steven Spriggs, was fined $165 and challenged the ticket.

Here is a portion of the 18-page decision.

While stopped in heavy traffic, Steven Spriggs pulled out his wireless telephone to check a map application for a way around the congestion.  A California Highway Patrol officer spotted him holding his telephone, pulled him over, and issued him a traffic citation for violating Vehicle Code section 23123, subdivision (a), which prohibits drivers from “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 contends he did not violate the statute because he was not talking on the telephone.  We agree.  Based on the statute’s language, its legislative history, and subsequent legislative enactments, we conclude that the statute means what it says – it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it.  Consequently, we reverse his conviction.


After Spriggs was cited for violating Vehicle Code section 23123, subdivision (a) (hereafter section 23123(a)),[1] he contested the citation.  At the trial held before a Fresno County Superior Court traffic commissioner, both Spriggs and the California Highway Patrol officer who issued the citation testified that Spriggs was cited for looking at a map on his cellular telephone while holding the telephone in his hand and driving.  The traffic court commissioner subsequently found Spriggs guilty of violating section 23123(a) and ordered him to pay a $165 fine.

Spriggs appealed his conviction to the appellate division of the superior court.  There he argued the only use of a wireless telephone section 23123(a) prohibits is listening and talking on the telephone if the telephone is being used in a manner that requires the driver to hold the telephone in his or her hand.  Spriggs asserted the conduct for which he was cited was not a violation of section 23123(a) because he was not listening and talking on the telephone.  The People did not file a brief or otherwise appear in connection with the appeal.

The appellate division affirmed Spriggs’s conviction in People v. Spriggs (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1.  The appellate division concluded, after reviewing the statute’s plain language as well as its legislative history, that the statute was not “designed to prohibit hands-on use of a wireless telephone for conversation only,” but instead was “specifically designed to prevent a driver from using a wireless telephone while driving unless the device is being used in a hands-free manner[,]” and “outlawed all ‘hands-on’ use of a wireless telephone while driving.”  (People v. Spriggs, supra, 215 Cal.App.4th at p. Supp. 5, 6-7.)

We subsequently granted review of the matter after the appellate division granted Spriggs’s request for transfer certification to this court.  We specifically asked the parties to address the following issue: “whether a person driving a motor vehicle, while holding a wireless telephone and looking at or checking a map application on the wireless telephone, violates Vehicle Code section 23123.”

On appeal, Spriggs asserts the answer is no, as he was not “using” the wireless telephone within the meaning of the statute because the statute applies only if a driver is listening and talking on a wireless telephone that is not being used in a hands-free mode.  The People contend the statute is much broader and applies to all uses of a wireless telephone unless the telephone is used in a hands-free manner.

We agree with Spriggs and conclude, pursuant to the rules of statutory interpretation, including our review of the language and legislative history of section 23123(a), that the Legislature intended the statute to only prohibit the use of a wireless telephone to engage in a conversation while driving unless the telephone is used in a hands-free manner.  Therefore, we hold that Spriggs did not violate section 23123(a) and reverse the judgment.

Full Decision: