Smartwatches count as hand held devices and distractions behind the wheel

June 28, 2018, Kitchener, Ontario

Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer

An Ontario Court of Justice Judge has recently found that smart watches are indeed a distraction behind the wheel. In this latest decision, which has courts catching up to technology, a University of Guelph student was found to be distracted driving after spending too much time staring at her smart watch while driving. She was fined $400.

Victoria Ambrose was ordered to pay the fine which resulted from an officer who noticed the glow from her watch while stopped beside her at a traffic light. He reported seeing her look up and down several times in 20 minutes, and then she didn’t move forward when the light turned green. She didn’t pull forward until he shone a light into her car. He pulled her over at that point. When he looked in at her he realized that she was wearing an Apple Watch and she was using it at the light.

Ontario law makes it illegal to text, talk, type dial or email using hand held cell phones or other hand held devices, entertainment devices, or communication devices like smart phones, GPS systems, laptops, or portable media players while you are driving. Clearly the young woman was doing just that.

In the past the government had not included smart watches in the illegal category, however Justice Phillipps said in his ruling that:

"Checking one's timepiece is normally done in a moment, even if it had to be touched to be activated," said Phillipps. 
"Despite the Apple Watch being smaller than a cellular phone, on the evidence, it is a communication device capable of receiving and transmitting electronic data. While attached to the defendant's wrist, it is no less a source of distraction than a cellphone taped to someone's wrist. 
“The key to determining this matter is distraction. It is abundantly clear from the evidence that Ms. Ambrose was distracted when the officer made his observations."

This is an interesting case, and a precedent for Ontario. Let’s hope people aren’t spending too much time reading their watches instead of paying attention to the roads.

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