Apple Watch reveals new grey areas for distracted driving laws in Canada

With wearable technology becoming increasingly available and affordable, the pressing issue of how exactly they fit into distracted driving laws has yet to be fully addressed.

There's a bit of a grey area on whether or not smart watch users should be penalized under the same laws made for smart phones. In October 2013, the Ontario Provincial Police told Yahoo Canada that there wasn’t any kind of regulation in place specifically to address Google Glass , leaving the legal ramifications murky.

Now, in 2015, we're still left wondering what is and what isn't considered a hand-held device.

Canadian Jeffery Macesin was hit with a $150 fine and four demerit points this month while driving in Quebec for changing songs on his Apple Watch. But is the Apple Watch, or any other piece of wearable technology, considered a hand-held device? Since there are no laws against checking a watch on your wrist, should he have been fined?

OPP Sgt. Peter Leon says that smart watches are a distraction.

"These new wrist worn devices can be considered as a distraction type device depending on the function they are performing and that can very as we know,” Leon told Yahoo Canada in an email exchange. “At the very least, a charge of careless driving could be laid as these devices often vibrate when a text, email or message is received.

"With respect to new technology, distracted driving is distracted driving with any type of electronic device. Motorists must be able to drive and incorporate all aspects related to what was learned in driver training without being distracted by any form and wrist worn applications fall within the category of such a device."

According to Ontario's Ministry of Transportation website: "In Ontario, it is illegal for drivers to talk, text, type, dial or email using hand-held cell phones and other hand-held communications and entertainment devices."

While this gives a good indication of what can or can't be used while driving, the website lists a few exceptions which the Apple Watch falls under, including using it as a GPS, as a hands-free Bluetooth device and as an audio device for the vehicle's sound system. Unfortunately, more grey area means there’s more room for interpretation.

(Photo via Reuters)
(Photo via Reuters)

Some provinces are taking steps to curb distracted driving with some stiff consequences. Manitoba has recently changed its distracted driving law, increasing the number of demerit points lost from two to five, and maintaining a $200 fine. To drivers with 10-15 demerits already accumulated, the fine could jump to a maximum of $3,200 depending on their record. Ontario has also upped its fine from zero demerits and $280 to a maximum of three demerits and $1,000. For a full list, you can check out the Canadian Automobile Association website.

"The recent enhancements made to the distracted driving laws is supported by the OPP as distracted driving has replaced impaired operation and sadly become the number one causal factor resulting in death on OPP patrolled roads and highways," Leon said.

"The OPP will gladly enforce any laws that help us to make our roadways the safest in North America."

Leon offered advice to drivers who are unclear whether they are allowed to use their Apple Watch while in motion: "The best place for a driver's eyes are on the road looking for approaching hazards , scanning side and rear view mirrors and driving according to conditions that include volume, weather and slowing or stopping traffic - all without distraction."

While some provinces are being proactive to nip distracted driving in the bud, a concrete interpretation of what is and what isn't considered illegal would certainly be welcomed.

What we do know is with the increased fines and the potential for harsh penalties, the crime certainly isn't worth a glance at the time.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting