In a pair of unrelated matters involving the prohibition against the use of cellphones while driving, an upstate New York judge has held that using a phone while stopped at a red light violates the statute, but using the "Siri" feature on an iPhone does not.
The statute in question, §1125-c (2a), prohibits an individual from operating an "in motion" vehicle while using a mobile phone "to engage in a call."
It also creates a rebuttable presumption that a motorist holding a cellphone in the proximity of his ear while the vehicle is in motion is engaging in a call.
Both of those provisions came into play in recent Brighton Town Court matters before Justice Karen Morris.
In People v. Winterhawk, 11110535, defendant Dakota Winterhawk was charged with violating §1225-c(2a) after a police officer saw him holding a cellphone to his ear while stopped at a traffic light. Winterhawk admitted he was listening to his voicemail. At issue was whether a vehicle stopped at a red light is "in motion" under the statute.
Morris found that it is.
The judge distinguished stopping at a light from pulling over to the side of the road or using a phone while parked in a lot. She said that during the "pause" that occurs at a traffic signal, the motorist needs to be alert to changing conditions, such as dodging an out-of-control vehicle or inching forward to proceed expeditiously once the light changes.
"Considering the legislative purpose of the statute to protect against accidents, to say that the car is not in motion while paused at a red light does not comport with the reality of the situation," Morris wrote.
In People v. Welch, 12070533, defendant Andrew Welch was charged with using a mobile phone while operating a vehicle when an officer saw him driving on a Brighton street while talking into a telephone he held to his chin. Welch admitted he was talking into the phone, but claimed that he was using the "Siri" feature, a voice-activated "personal assistant," to activate a call.
Morris found him credible and said the evidence "rebuts the inference that he was engaged in a call and instead establishes that he was activating a call, an action that is not illegal."