California is taking a step back from laws that place an outright ban on texting and emailing while driving with a modification to the state's vehicle code that was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on Friday. The "Freedom to Communicate" bill adds an exception to the original anti-texting law — which accounted for a 47 percent drop is cellphone-related traffic deaths — for devices that are "specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, or listen to a text-based communication."
While that seems to be fairly clear-cut, the meaning of the law is actually quite murky. The question is what sort of devices are covered by the new law and whether it's legal to touch a phone to activate speech-to-text functionality. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the California Highway Patrol says that the new law — set to go into effect on January 1st — does not allow for the use of something like Siri, since you need to pick up an iPhone to activate the feature. However, a conflicting report from NBCNews quotes a representative of the assemblyman who introduced the bill saying that it "was not crafted to apply to phones" but that apps like Siri can count in the law, too. Either way, to be safe it sounds like you'll need an integrated, in-car texting solution if you want to take advantage of the new law — something that Apple is working to get in on with "Eyes Free" Siri.