Drivers in California can no longer hold their cellphones for any reason – including the use of map applications – while behind the wheel, based on a recent ruling from the appellate division of the Fresno County Superior Court.
The decision adds on to existing state bans that prohibit texting and talking on the phone while driving.
Use of cellphones has been a major cause of traffic accidents because it leads to distracted driving when drivers shift their attention away from the road or remove their hands from the steering wheel, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety website.
The case originated when Steven R. Spriggs appeared in Fresno County Superior Court because he wanted to fight a ticket he received for using a map application on his phone while driving, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The state alleged that Spriggs had violated a California law prohibiting distracted driving. The appeals court upheld the decision in its most recent ruling on March 21, clarifying that any handheld use of the phone while driving is prohibited, not just texting or calling.
Drivers are now banned from any form of handheld cellphone usage, including looking at maps, emails or texts.
Rui Wang, assistant professor of urban planning at the Luskin School of Public Affairs, said that, ideally, the court’s redefining of the law would change drivers’ behavior, though monitoring it may prove difficult. The effectiveness of the regulation depends on how well it is enforced, Wang said.
Allyson Vertti, a third-year anthropology student, said she often uses the GPS function on her phone while she is driving. She said she understands the dangers of using the phone while driving, and supports the appeals court’s decision.
“It’s understandable. Using GPS is definitely more dangerous than calling or texting, because people have to focus on orienting themselves in addition to using their hands,” Vertti said.
Other students, however, were more skeptical about the new regulation and said they think it might set a precedent for more restrictive driving laws in the future.
“This is ridiculous,” said Mike Sislano, a third-year mathematics student who has a car. “Does that mean (one day) I can’t drink coffee while driving?”
California first banned talking on the phone in 2008, and texting later in 2010, according to the radio station KPCC.
Although more states have instituted bans on texting and calling while driving, the number of people using cellphones while driving has remained approximately the same since 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Because drivers are not be able to use their cellphones for tasks like checking emails or maps, the resulting time wasted may impose negative costs for them, Wang said.
Drivers in need of help with navigation will have to find ways to use their cellphones without hands or look to alternative navigational devices.
Discussion about cellphone use while driving is becoming increasingly irrelevant, because voice-activated GPS or Bluetooth technology mean that people are naturally less likely to use their hands, Wang said.
“More and more people are using voice-activated navigation, so this really isn’t too big a deal,” he said.