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California court ruling frees drivers to use map apps on cellphones

A California state appellate court on Thursday reversed a ruling of a man who was ticketed for using a mapping app on his iPhone 4 while driving, opening the door to reform of the state's laws regarding cellphone use while driving.

In its decision, California's 5th District Court of Appeal ruled the state's laws are worded in such a way that does not prohibit drivers from using certain apps like mapping software while driving, reports The Associated Press.

In January of 2012, Steven Spriggs was issued a ticket by a California Highway Patrol officer for using his iPhone 4 while stuck in traffic caused by roadwork. Spriggs challenged the $165 fine, arguing his use of a mapping app to find an alternate route did not break state laws barring talking on a cellphone while driving.

After losing in both traffic court and the Fresno County Superior Court, Spriggs ultimately brought the case to the district appeals court. After review, the appellate court reversed the lower court's decision, saying the law leveraged by the CHP officer to cite Spriggs applied only to "listening and talking" on a cellphone, not other uses.

The case shines a light on laws designed to protect against distracted driving, which some critics argue are unclear or too narrow. While some states have strict "no touch" laws that make holding a cellphone while behind the wheel illegal, others have statutes similar to California's narrowly-worded "no talk, no text" rules.

With smartphones like Apple's iPhone, users have access to a wide variety of apps that can be useful while commuting. Others, like games, messaging apps and other attention-grabbing titles have the potential to cause accidents.

Spriggs said he wants existing laws to be rewritten in a way that is less vague and allows police officers to do their job more effectively.

"We're distracted all the time," he said. "If our distractions cause us to drive erratically, we should be arrested for driving erratically."

Thursday's ruling can be challenged on appeal by the state attorney general's office.