Most people know it's against the law to talk on a cellphone while driving a car.

But what about looking at a GPS map on a phone or adjusting music with one?

A Fresno County appeals court answered the question in a recent ruling that appears to expand restrictions on cellphone use.

The three-judge panel upheld a ticket issued to Steven Spriggs, a Fresno State University fundraiser, who pulled out his phone while stopped in traffic to study a map.

The court found Spriggs was guilty of distracted driving because he was using his hands to operate the device.

It said the distraction would exist "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 is only binding in Fresno County, but it is likely to be persuasive elsewhere, said Sonoma County Traffic Court Commissioner Lawrence Ornell, who found the court's analysis to be "sound."

"This is the first case on this," Ornell said. "It takes a definite position. A bright-line ruling, as they say in the law field."

But police agencies in Sonoma County said it may have little practical effect. They already give the $162 tickets to anyone operating a cellphone while driving a car.

"It doesn't matter what you are using it for," CHP Officer Jon Sloat said. "The way we look at it is, if it's in your hand and you are on the roadway, we make an enforcement stop."

Sloat said the court has upheld citations for people who were stopped at a traffic light when they picked up their phone. He said it's clear people are "testing the loopholes" and the courts are closing them.

Others disagreed with the ruling, saying it goes against the letter of the law. Joe Soldis, a former Santa Rosa police officer and private investigator, said the legislator who wrote the law did not specifically outlaw the act of dialing a phone and didn't contemplate use of GPS.

Although he agrees distracted driving is a problem, Soldis said people shouldn't be penalized by the lack of clarity.

"It's unfair for someone to get a ticket when they think they are following the law," said Soldis. "The author has said you could dial a phone."

Santa Rosa criminal defense lawyer Paul Lozada also said the Fresno court went too far. He said the law only covers talking or texting and not looking at applications.

Lozada said drivers could someday be in violation for innocuous things.

"Where do we draw the line for what a distraction is?" Lozada said. "Is it changing a radio station? Or adjusting your temperature settings?"

A judge in the Fresno ruling acknowledged that changes in the law may be needed. Until the Legislature makes an amendment, the courts must find illegal most uses of hand-held phones by drivers, the court said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or