A question I’m frequently asked as a Los Angeles car accident lawyer is whether using cell phone map apps such as Waze is permissible. It’s a very interesting question, and until recently, even the courts had a hard time grappling with this issue. That was until the California Court of Appeals decided People v. Spriggs in 2014.
A bit of background is important here. In 2008, California banned the use of handheld devices while driving. Vehicle Code Section 23123 (a) states that “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.”
Some years later, Steven Spriggs was pulled over by the Highway Patrol in Fresno for using his cell phone map application to navigate through gridlock. The officer cited Spriggs for violating this Vehicle Code provision, but Spriggs contested his citation, arguing that he wasn’t “listening or talking” on his cell phone. Spriggs was convicted, but his conviction was overturned by the California Court of Appeals last year.
The Court analyzed Section 23123 and poured over its legislative history. The issue boiled down to what is considered “using” a wireless telephone. The Court reasoned that the focus of the law is on talking, not using a map application or just looking at the phone. The statute does not say that the phone must be used in a manner that allows hands-free looking, but rather, hands-free talking.
To quote the Court, ‘Had the Legislature intended to prohibit drivers from holding the telephone, it would not have limited the telephone’s required design and configuration to hands-free listening and talking, but would have used broader language such as hands-free operation or use.'”
So, it’s evident from this case that using Waze or any other map app is permissible for California drivers. It’s still a good idea for drivers to exercise special caution while using Waze or similar map applications while driving.
Drivers are also reminded that it’s illegal to text message or write an email under other provisions of the Vehicle Code. And drivers under 18 are expressly prohibited from using a cell phone, even a hands-free one, for any purpose.
Stay safe on the road this summer, and for questions about your case, my office is one phone call away.