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Sometimes a watch is just a cellphone

 May 31, 2018 8:00 PM
by Laura Emmett

Apple watch leads to distracting driving conviction.

A recent Ontario Court of Justice case brings to light a new distracted driving concern – Apple wrist watches. Ms. Ambrose was convicted of “drive hand-held communication device” – really, distracted driving - after she was observed looking at her watch on several occasions while operating a vehicle. The police officer testified that as he was stopped beside the Defendant at a red light, he noted a glow from a handheld device. The officer observed her look up and down approximately four times. When the light turned green, the two cars in front of the Defendant moved forward but she did not. When the police officer turned on his spot light, she started to drive forward.

After the officer pulled over the Defendant, he learned that the handheld device was her Apple watch. While she testified that the watch was not connected to her phone, the Court found that whether it was actually connected to another device at the time of the offence was not a determining factor. It was the holding, or use of the device, that the Court must examine. Ms. Ambrose claimed that despite the capabilities of the watch, she was only checking the time which required touching the screen to activate and deactivate it. The Court noted that she did this instead of using the clock in her vehicle.

The Court found that the law was clear – driving occurs even when motor vehicles are stopped at a red light. As such, the evidence established that the Apple watch was used while the Defendant was driving a motor vehicle on a highway. The key was determining whether she was distracted. On this point, the Court found that it was “abundantly clear” from the evidence that the Defendant was distracted. She was looking up and down repeatedly over the 20 seconds that the officer observed her. In addition, she didn’t start driving when the light turned green. It was only when the floodlight illuminated the vehicle that she started to drive. The Court rejected the argument that the Defendant was checking the time because it was inconsistent with the officer’s observations.

Finally, the Court noted that even though the watch was smaller than a cellular phone, it was a communication device capable of receiving and transmitting electronic data. Specifically, the Court held “[w]hile attached to the defendant’s wrist it is no less a source of distraction than a cell phone taped to someone’s wrist. It requires the driver to change their body position and operate it by touch.”

This case is important for personal injury claims. During interviews, discoveries and trials, the use of all handheld devices (which now include smart watches) should be explored to determine whether a party was distracted at the time of the accident and thus negligent.

See R. v. Ambrose, 2018 ONCJ 345 (CanLII) 


Laura has a diverse practice where she focuses on accident benefits, bodily injury claims, product liability, cyber liability, privacy law and drone liability. Read more ...

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