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In the 15th edition of Fight Your Ticket & Win in California, at page 70-71, we note that the law forbids using a handheld cell phone, while driving, to hold a conversation or to send or read text messages. However, a California appeals court recently clarified that it is perfectly legal to use a phone by hand for purposes other than conversing or texting. The court said that drivers can legally use applications such as map systems while driving. In fact, the court’s opinion was broad enough to allow surfing the Internet while driving! (People v. Spriggs (2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 150.)
This decision requires the state to prove that a person was using a phone by hand to talk or for purposes of text-based communication (including, for example, email). When they pull you over, officers may now try to get you to admit that you were texting. They may also ask to search your phone in the hope of finding proof that you recently sent or received a message. Some officers currently make this request of drivers, but our opinion is that you should politely decline unless you want to hand your phone over. If an officer demands your phone, you should comply, then challenge the legality of the demand in court.