What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving means driving while engaging in another activity that distracts from the driver’s attention to the road.

In Ontario, distracted driving laws have been put in place to specifically target the use of hand-held communication or entertainment devices and certain display screens.

Specifically, under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, it is illegal to:

  • use a phone or other hand-held wireless communication device to text or dial;
  • use a hand-held electronic entertainment device, such as a tablet or portable gaming console;
  • view display screens unrelated to driving, such as watching a video;
  • program a GPS device, except by voice commands.

Exceptions include using a device to call 911 in an emergency and using hands-free wireless communications devices with an earpiece, lapel button or Bluetooth. Additionally, GPS display screens can be used as long as they are built into the vehicle’s dashboard or securely mounted on the dashboard.

Why Are Distracted Driving Laws Important?

According to Ontario’s latest statistics, deaths from collisions caused by distracted driving have doubled since 2000. The data on collisions also shows that:

  • one person is injured in a distracted driving collision every half hour; and
  • a driver using a phone is four times more likely to crash than a driver focusing on the road.

Additionally, the Canadian Automobile Association’s website provides other statistics, which state that:

  • mobile phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes annually;
  • the likelihood of a collision is increased 3.6 times when using an electronic device; and
  • distracted driving fatalities have surpassed those caused by impaired driving in some parts of Canada.

Driver Charged with Using Cell Phone While Driving

Laws similar to those in Ontario exist in British Columbia. Under s. 214.2(1) of BC’s Motor Vehicle Act, it is illegal for a person to “use an electronic device while driving or operating a motor vehicle on a highway.” The word “use” is defined by s. 214.1(a) to include “holding the device in a position in which it may be used.”

After a driver was convicted for using an electronic device while driving in violation of these provisions, he challenged the ticket in court.

The officer who had issued the violation ticket observed the driver looking down while driving. When the officer approached the car, he saw a cell phone connected to a cord face-up in the driver’s lap.

While the driver agreed that he had been looking down when the officer first saw him, he testified that his cell phone was wedged between his right thigh and the car seat, facing up.

The lower court upheld the ticket, concluding that the phone’s location made no difference because, either way, the phone was a potential distraction and was in use because it was being charged.

The driver appealed the decision to the BC Supreme Court.

BC Supreme Court Rejects Driver’s Appeal

The driver argued that the lower court had erred by suggesting that the mere presence of an electronic device constituted a distraction and was therefore prohibited by the Act. He further argued that it had erred in finding that charging a cell phone without touching it constituted “use” under s. 214.2(1) of the Act.

While the court agreed that errors had been made in the lower court decision, it also stated:

“[W]hether having a cell phone on your right lap, or wedged between your right thigh and the seat with the screen facing up, is holding it in a position in which it may be used.”

The court concluded that the driver’s leg placement impacted the phone’s position such that it was being “held” within the meaning of the Act and rejected the driver’s interpretation of “holding” as restricted to an action done with one’s hands, stating:

To interpret “holding” as being restricted to an action done with one’s hands is not in harmony with the scheme of the distracted driving provisions of the MVA. Such an interpretation would allow drivers to operate their vehicles with electronic devices in their laps, between their thighs, tucked under their arms or chins, or supported by other parts of their bodies.

The court upheld the conviction. The driver appealed the BC Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal Clarifies Distracted Driving Law

On appeal, the driver argued that the prohibition in s. 214.2(1) of the Act did not apply to a cell phone wedged between a driver’s leg and the seat when the screen was not illuminated. He relied on the “ordinary meaning” of the words “use” and “hold” as well as the description of the bill when it was introduced in the Legislature, which stated: “to ensure that drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road”.

After reviewing the legal and ordinary meanings of the word “use”, the Court of Appeal ultimately dismissed the driver’s appeal, holding that the lower court had not erred in finding that the driver’s conduct was prohibited by the Act. It concluded by stating:

“‘Holding’ in s. 214.1(a) means physically grasping, carrying, or supporting an electronic device with any part of one’s body in a position in which the device may be used.”

Get Advice 

In the event of serious injury following a car crash, retaining a lawyer can help you to get the long-term support you need from your insurance company and the compensation that ought to be paid by the parties at fault for your accident.

At Campbell Litigation, we investigate your claims arising from a car accident, and we seek the compensation you need to recover from your injuries. In the event you have sustained a catastrophic physical impairment or any permanent, serious impairment of any important physical, psychological or mental function, we will help obtain your insurance benefits and fair compensation from those at fault for the motor vehicle accident. We are experienced in handling cases for the most severely injured. We understand the challenges and worries faced on a day-to-day basis by those dealing with newfound hardships.

Legal advice can help you make sure you have what you need following a car accident. To speak with the Waterloo car accidents lawyers at our firm, call us at 519-886-1204 or contact us online. We offer prospective accident clients a free initial consultation.