Last 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.