Steven Spriggs was stopped in a traffic jam near downtown Fresno. He wanted to see if there was an alternate route around the mess, so he pulled out his iPhone 4 to look at the map. Next thing he knew, he was being pulled over.
Spriggs was ordered to pay a $160 ticket plus court fees for "distracted driving." He tried to challenge his ticket, saying he wasn't talking or texting. He even brought a paper map to court to argue that it was legal to hold it while driving.
But a court commissioner and then a three-judge appellate panel of the Superior Court said that GPS usage must be "configured to all hands-free listening or talking."
"The primary evil sought to be avoided is the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone," Fresno County Judge Kent Hamlin wrote for the panel. "That distraction would be present whether the wireless telephone was being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails."
The ruling will not apply outside of Fresno County unless a higher court affirms the decision. Spriggs said he was unsure whether he would pursue the case further to the California Court of Appeal and the state Supreme Court.
A recent study found that "distracted driving" laws are moderately successful but only if strictly enforced. Texting and driving is currently outlawed in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.