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Criminal defense to change with new meaning of hands-free law

Drivers are required to use hands-free technology while behind the wheel in California, right? Not so fast; if you are caught using your phone while driving, you could avoid having to mount a criminal defense. The reason: Drivers are now allowed to use maps on their cellphones without risking punishment. Although this is definitely good news for drivers, law enforcement officers say there may still be confusion about what is allowed under the state's hands-free regulations.

The ruling comes after a defendant decided to fight a $165 ticket for criminal charges related to cellphone use. The court decided that the state's laws only regulate holding a phone to your ear while talking. Using a hand-held device to look at maps and other information is thus generally allowed.

A California appeals court issued a ruling in late February that will allow drivers to use smartphone maps without being cited. However, law enforcement authorities say that a driver who is failing to pay attention to the road could still be ticketed for distracted driving. In the past, a driver distracted by a smartphone map would have been punished for violating the hands-free provision.

Many people equate distracted driving almost exclusively with cellphone use, but that concept fails to consider other sources of distraction. Authorities explain that eating or drinking in the vehicle, reading a magazine or even disciplining children on the road can be dangerous distractions, as well. Officers say that the best policy is simply to drive without distractions to improve your own personal safety.

Defendants may face different criminal charges for distracted driving instead of hands-free law violations because of the legal ruling. A criminal defense attorney may be able to help answer questions about the implications of this law. Criminal defendants have the right to fair and unbiased criminal proceedings; a California attorney may be able to protect these defendants' rights in court.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, "Using cellphone map while driving OK'd by California court" Howard Mintz and Eric Kurhi, Feb. 28, 2014

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