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The iPhone 4S, Siri technology and New York's traffic laws

One of New York's better-known - and perhaps infamous - vehicle traffic laws is the prohibition against texting while driving. Originally passed in November 2009, the law (which has since been amended) makes texting while driving a primary offense. This means that any law enforcement official in the state of New York can currently stop and ticket a motorist solely for texting while driving.

Now, with the recent release of the new iPhone 4S and, more importantly, its voice recognition software, dubbed Siri, many New Yorkers are probably wondering if they have found a legally permissible way to text behind the wheel.

For those unfamiliar with Siri, it essentially allows the iPhone 4S user to speak/direct the phone as to what they want to do. For example, a person may command Siri to "call home" or ask about "the latest stock report."

In addition, Siri allows the iPhone user to dictate a message that is then transcribed into a text message and sent, requiring no typing.

While the law allows people to use headsets or Bluetooth to talk while driving - the applicable laws prohibit only manual or held communication - what about hands-free texting?

"Basically we're looking for hands-free as the key to the texting law," said Nick Cantiello, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. "If a device isn't being held then there's no problem."

However, DMV officials are also quick to point out that all communication - texting or otherwise - must be hands-free, meaning the person must keep their eyes on the road at all times and avoid distracted driving.

"If [the user] has to pick [the phone] up to receive a message or to look at the text to reply, or to look at the original text, basically it would be against the texting law," said Cantiello. "If you have to pick it up and push a button or something, it's probably not a good thing while you're driving."

This is significant because iPhone users must complete a series of button pushing/key strokes in order to activate Siri, and have reported wanting to read their text messages transcribed by Siri before sending them as the new software is still prone to mistakes.

Accordingly, motorists in New York will probably want to exercise caution and resist the temptation to use their new technology while driving.

If you have been issued a traffic citation, fight to keep your driving privileges and your insurance premiums as low as possible. Consider contacting an attorney who understands New York's confusing legal system, and who can help you evaluate your options and make the right decisions.

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Stay tuned for further developments from our New York vehicle traffic law blog ...


The Post-Standard, "Love texting while driving? iPhone 4S Siri software could keep you out of trouble" Oct. 20, 2011

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