Can I Speak To Siri While Driving?

130318_siri_0078Last week, we discussed whether a motorist stopped at a red light is “in motion” for purpose of New York’s cell phone law under Vehicle And Traffic Law Section 1225-c. This week we discuss whether using Siri violates the cell phone law or any other New York law.

In People v. Welch, the defendant was observed holding an iPhone to his chin while operating his car.  He was charged with illegally using a mobile phone in violation of VTL Section 1225-c.  Welch admitted he was talking into his iPhone, but claimed that he was merely using its “Siri” feature to activate a call.  Siri is a voice-activated “personal assistant” that can do things such as initiate phone calls and conduct web searches.

Judge Karen Morris of the Brighton Town Court found the defendant credible and said the evidence “rebuts the inference that he was engaged in a call and instead establishes that he was activating a call.”

Judge Morris’ finding was critical because, under Section 1225-c, it is only illegal for a driver in motion to use a mobile phone to “engage in a call”.   Judge Morris concluded that the defendant was not guilty because, under VTL 1225-c, it is not illegal to merely activate a call while driving.

The defendant in Welch was lucky, however.  If he had been charged with VTL 1225-d (New York’s law against texting and driving), then he would clearly have been found guilty.  Using Siri while driving is clearly illegal under VTL 1225-d.  This law prohibits motorist from using any portable electronic device (including the iPhone’s Siri feature) while driving.  Using is defined broadly and includes using Siri while it is in your hands.

A California appellate court in People v. Spriggs recently reached the same conclusion holding that “using” an electronic device includes using a GPS navigator.  The court’s decision further indicates that it would have reached the same conclusion for basically any activity that one could do on a hand-held electronic device including texting and even looking at its clock.

Bottom line: You can speak with your passengers while driving but NOT your Siri, and don’t hold your electronic device while driving.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • THOMAS A LOPRESTI
    October 13, 2021 1:05 pm

    Good Afternoon. While I know this post is quite old I found your conclusion that using Siri in virtually all cases (assuming one has a phone in their hand) would constitute a violation under 1225-d. Assuming, there is no viewing, taking or transmitting of images or playing games involved, it would appear that you conclusion would require a finding that the initial purpose of using siri would require such act to be part of a present or future communication.

    If one were merely to ask Siri (by talking into ones phone) to provide directions to a location and nothing more how would this be considered “for the purpose of a present or future communication”

    Reply
    • Matthew Weiss
      October 13, 2021 1:52 pm

      THOMAS A LOPRESTI,

      If one were holding that phone while driving and asked Siri a question, then (in my opinion) it would constitute an illegal “use” under VTL 1225-d.

      Matthew Weiss

      Reply

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