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California court: Drivers can use smartphone maps, for now

Unlike talking on a cell phone or texting while driving, a court of appeals rules that using a map app is OK under the law.

Google Maps (left) and Apple Maps on smartphones.
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Texting or chatting on the phone while driving is illegal in California, but the law seems still to be catching up with technology when it comes to other aspects of smartphone use behind the wheel.

A court of appeals has reversed an earlier court decision that ruled map reading on a cell phone was taboo under the law, according to the Associated Press. The 5th District Court of Appeal said the law currently applies only to talking and texting on mobile devices and doesn't yet have legal language for app use.

The case came about in January 2012 after Fresno resident Steven Spriggs got a ticket for checking his iPhone 4 map when he was caught in a traffic jam, according to the AP. While he was searching for a better route on his phone, a California Highway Patrol officer stopped him and fined him $165.

After losing a challenge to the case in traffic court, Spriggs appealed the ticket to a Fresno County Superior Court. He lost again. Undeterred, he brought the case to the district court of appeals.

The panel of appellate judges ruled in favor of Spriggs, saying California law stipulates that "listening and talking" on cell phones without a hands-free device is illegal, but it doesn't specify other ways in which phone use is unlawful, according to the AP.

While this is a clear win for Spriggs, and he'll be able to get back his $165, the case could be appealed by the state attorney general's office to the California Supreme Court.