Cops in California say using iPhone's new personal assistant feature called Siri on the road could still get you a traffic ticket even though she works through voice commands.

That's because if you touch your phone to, say, explore a map of directions she brought up for you, you're not going hands-free as the law demands.

It's a gray area. And the last thing we need is for cops who hand out $200-plus tickets to have a gray area. But here's what L.A. CHP Officer John M. Harris told the Weekly:

Any use of your phone where you're using your hands is going to be a violation of the law.

But … Harris says he has heard of judges who have granted exceptions to this rule for “scrolling” through a phone book to make a call. Huh?

What's more, a San Jose cop told the Mercury News that holding your phone and looking down at the directions Siri just got for you would be a violation.

The guy who wrote the hands-free and texting laws, state Sen. Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, disputes that interpretation. He told the Merc:

… I don't see how asking Siri for driving instructions and then looking down at the text on the phone is any more of a violation of existing law than reading your GPS device. The law talks about communicating with any 'person.' And if there's one thing we know for sure, it's that Siri is not a person.

These laws, which say you can't have your handset to your ear and can't text or otherwise use your phone interactively with your hands, give way too much leeway to cops.

The texting law:

… A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communication device to write, send, or read a text-based communication.

Except that, as noted by the CHP's Harris, it's okay to use your phone as a GPS device, when properly mounted, and read the screen … except if an officer determines that even that is “distracting.”

And what if you're simply looking down when someone is calling you — to decide whether to take the call (hands-free, of course)?


It would certainly be hard to prove in court exactly what you were doing with your phone, especially if judges are allowing exceptions for looking up a number (or dialing a number?). Harris:

It all comes down to case-by-case basis where officer will have to make his own determination.

In a county where you pay first — go to court later (what the hell happened to due process?) — that's just what we don't need, especially during a time when departments are desperate for money.

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