Fresno driver gets ticket reversed for looking at map on iPhone

Drivers in California can legally read a map on their cellphones while behind the wheel, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
February 27, 2014 3:29:29 PM PST
A Fresno man fought to overturn his own cell phone ticket and Thursday, he won. Now, his battle could affect every single driver in the state of California.

"It's taken me by surprise," said Steve Spriggs. "I thought it was unjust. I wanted to fight it. I had no idea it would affect so many people."

Fresno courts refused to throw out the ticket for using the map on a cell phone while driving. But an appeals court stepped in and changed everything.

Spriggs got the ticket more than two years ago and now, he'll be getting back his $165. That's all he really wanted, but his appeal became a cause celebre, and his profile got much bigger than he ever imagined.

A phone and a map application are changing the rules. In the hands of Steve Spriggs, the technology led to a traffic ticket for using a wireless device while driving. But Spriggs didn't sit still.

The law school graduate and Fresno State fundraiser took a look at the law, decided using a map didn't violate it, and appealed. Even then, he thought it was no big deal.

"I prevailed in my little traffic case," Spriggs told Action News.

"Your little case has become quite a big case," a reporter told him. "I mean, throughout the state of California this will have impact on drivers."

"It's really surprising how many people have contacted me directly who have been in similar situations up and down the state," Spriggs said. "I've gotten calls from the trucking industry. They're concerned about it. I've gotten calls from UPS headquarters. They're concerned about it. It has a great effect. I had no idea what effect it might have."

Spriggs argued the state legislature didn't intend to ban using wireless devices for anything except "talking and listening" without a hands-free device. That's why lawmakers also wrote a law specifically banning texting while driving.

The former state senator who authored both bills says Spriggs got it right, and so did the fifth district court of appeals, even though its ruling clears the way for drivers to use apps while driving.

Joe Simitian (now a Santa Clara County supervisor) said: "It may not be safe, but it's not against the law."

The law is now very limited.

"I think the enforcement is going to be pretty much slim to none," said ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi. "They're going to be pulling over people who have the phone to their ear. That's a clear violation. Technically, that's pretty much the only violation of this statute."

Spriggs isn't encouraging anyone to use maps or other apps while driving. He was stopped on Highway 41 when he got pulled over. But he hopes his own vindication will encourage a common sense approach to enforcement.

"Cell phones aren't the only thing distracting us," he said. "We're all distracted all the time. And I think the goal is to keep those distractions from interfering in our driving."

The state attorney general can still appeal the case to the state supreme court. Capozzi says he thinks that's unlikely. Meanwhile, he says people who've gotten tickets for using apps should get their cases thrown out, and another court will have to rule on whether the state should repay people who've already paid fines. We asked the California Highway Patrol how the ruling would affect the way they enforce traffic laws. "It would be premature at this point to speculate on what impact, if any, this ruling will have on the Department," said public information officer Jaime Coffee in a statement sent to us Thursday evening. "Our officers will continue to enforce the traffic safety laws that are on the books." Click here to download the court documents: http://bit.ly/1mJcx5j


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