Sunday, March 30, 2014

California Court Clarifies Driving While Texting Law

Recently, the California lawmakers made it illegal to text and drive.  Many DUI drivers violate this statute.  The law was instantly applauded by safety groups as innovative and necessary in the age of technology .  But what about those drivers that use their devices for looking at maps?  The law seemed to apply to those drivers, not so says a Central Valley appellate court.  In this case a CHP officer cited The driver for prohibited use of a wireless telephone while driving after the officer saw him check a traffic map on his phone. (Veh. Code, § 23123, subd. (a).) driver claimed he was not "using" the phone within the meaning of the statute. 

The defendant appealed the ruling by the trial judge and the appeals court overturned the conviction. Section 23123, subdivision (a) prohibits a driver from using a wireless telephone unless it is configured for hands-free "listening and talking" and is used in that manner while driving. Based on the wording of the statute, it does not require that the phone be used in a manner that allows for "hands-free looking," or "hands-free operation." The legislative history of the law reflects it was focused on prohibiting a driver from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it. This interpretation is supported by subsequent laws, such as section Vehicle Code 23123.5, which prohibit texting while driving, as they would not have been necessary if section 23123 applied to all non-hands-free "uses" of wireless telephones while driving. (Thanks to CCAP).

This statute will likely be used often in the context of DUI enforcement.  Indeed, in one recent case,  Torrance DUI Attorney Matthew Ruff represented a motorist that was pulled over for this reason, we took the case to trial and the driver was acquitted.  Time will tell how police apply the law to those seen staring at there phone while driving.