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It is Illegal to Text While Driving but Everything Else is Technically Ok

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Photo by aaronparecki via Flickr

Photo by aaronparecki via Flickr
With each new iPhone application or technological advancement, new questions emerge regarding legality of using such devices in the car. A common habit, for example, is to use Google Maps while driving as a primary source of directions. But are drivers doing it legally?Because the law tends to be worded vaguely when referring to texting/talking/web surfing while driving, rumors float around about what is actually legal or illegal.

Technically, according to Division 11, Chapter 12, Article 1, section 23123 of the 2010 Vehicle Code General Provisions and Division, it is illegal to use a cell phone “for listening and talking” unless it is hands free. However a 2008 amendment, section 23123.5, allows drivers to read, select, or enter in a telephone number, but as soon as it is sent it must be hands free again. Wayne Ziese, a spokesperson for California Office of Traffic Safety, believes this rule is extended to entering directions as well since the law does not explicitly prohibit any such act.

“It doesn’t say you can’t enter in information. It is only the act of using a cell phone and or texting that is prohibited,” said Ziese.

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So here is the loophole. The law does not say anything about holding the phone in your hand if it is not for talking, listening, writing or sending text messages, or video broadcast. And it is only illegal to read something that was for communication “with any person”. It is perfectly legal to hold and read map directions, read a book on an ipad, surf the web, etc. It only becomes illegal when you are interacting with another person.

But according to Tony Garrett, a California Highway Patrol Public Information Officer, police officers can and will pull drivers over and ticket them if they simply see a phone being used.

“If a phone is in your hands, we can’t tell if you are putting in an address or texting,” said Garrett, “you can still get stopped and cited”. It is then up to the driver to go to court and contest the actual use of the phone at the time of the ticket.

And even though the law has yet to include viewing phone applications, most officers will continue to strongly encourage against it.

Not only is it extremely dangerous and distracting to use cell phones to any capacity while driving, but “if you crash you car because you were fooling around with a cell phone,” said Ziese, “there can be serious charges.”

It is easy to look for the loophole in the law, but the spirit of the law is to protect. And sometimes it is just not worth it to have those extra couple minutes of phone use.