The issuance of traffic tickets for illegally using a smart phone and other electronic device have exploded over the last few years in New York. It is a very easy violation to spot and relatively easy one to prove in traffic court. Further, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1225-d, this offense carries a hefty punishment (5 points and roughly a $150 fine for a first offense). With the surge of such moving violations, our law office has gotten all types of interesting questions about the scope of this law including whether an Apple iWatch can be worn and used while driving. Or, as you’ll see below, the precise question … does “strapped” mean “holding”?
Under VTL Section 1225-d, it is illegal for a person to drive a motor vehicle while “using” and a “portable electronic device”. While the definition of “using” in my opinion generally covers interactions with an iWatch and an iWatch clearly is a “portable electronic device”, I still believe that you can legally use an iWatch in New York without violating this provision. I reach this opinion because, under VTL Section 1225-d(2)(b), the driver must be “holding” the device while using it in order to run afoul of the law, and generally people wear this type of device on their wrist. I view it as a real stretch for a traffic judge to construe the word “hold” as encompassing a device that is strapped to a wrist. A Google search of the definition of “hold” resulted in the following definition: “grasp, carry, or support with one’s arms or hands.” A strapped watch does not fall squarely within this definition.
On the other hand, this question has not been interpreted by any traffic court as far as I could un-cover. Further, some traffic judges are quite liberal in interpreting traffic safety laws and, therefore, it would not surprise me for a different interpretation to be given by them. For instance, one could argue that a strapped watch is “supported with one’s arms”.
With this all said, I would not test police officers by using (let alone flaunting) your iWatch while driving. Further, using such a device is as dangerous, if not more dangerous, then using a smart phone or other un-strapped electronic device. Therefore, my hope is that you do not use your iWatch or other electronic devices while driving. Don’t look at them or click on them while driving. For your safety and the safety of others, put it away while driving.
Below is the full text of New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1225-d:
§1225-d. Use of portable electronic devices.
1. Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person shall operate a motor vehicle while using any portable electronic device while such vehicle is in motion.
2. For the purposes of this section, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
(a) “Portable electronic device” shall mean any hand-held mobile telephone, as defined by subdivision one of section twelve hundred twenty-five-c of this article, personal digital assistant (PDA), handheld device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, broadband personal communication device, two-way messaging device, electronic game, or portable computing device.
(b) “Using” shall mean holding a portable electronic device while viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games, or composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving e-mail, text messages, or other electronic data.
3. Subdivision one of this section shall not apply to (a) the use of a portable electronic device for the sole purpose of communicating with any of the following regarding an emergency situation: an emergency response operator; a hospital; a physician’s office or health clinic; an ambulance company or corps; a fire department, district or company; or a police department, (b) any of the following persons while in the performance of their official duties: a police officer or peace officer; a member of a fire department, district or company; or the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle as defined in section one hundred one of this chapter.
4. A person who holds a portable electronic device in a conspicuous manner while operating a motor vehicle is presumed to be using such device. The presumption established by this subdivision is rebuttable by evidence tending to show that the operator was not using the device within the meaning of this section.
5. The provisions of this section shall not be construed as authorizing the seizure or forfeiture of a portable electronic device, unless otherwise provided by law.
6. A violation of this section shall be a traffic infraction and shall be punishable by a fine of not more than one hundred fifty dollars.