It has been said that technology proceeds law.  The law is constantly reacting to changes and advancements in technology, with new technologies becoming mainstream that would have been unimaginable a generation ago.  This lesson was recently discovered by a University of Guelph student as she sat at an intersection using her Apple Watch.  She was charged by a nearby police officer for driving while using a handheld communication device and was subsequently convicted at court.

The following article is from the National Post detailing what happened:


A driver looking at an Apple Watch while stopped at a traffic light is still guilty of breaking Ontario’s distracted driving law, despite the trendy device’s new technology and her claim she was only checking the time.

Even with its miniaturization and trendy technology, an Apple Watch is no safer “than a cellphone taped to someone’s wrist,” said a justice of the peace, while convicting a Guelph woman this month of holding or using a hand-held wireless communication device while driving.

Victoria Ambrose was stopped at a red light on South Ring Road in Guelph in April when a University of Guelph police officer, beside her in his cruiser, noticed the glow of an electronic device. The officer testified he saw her looking up and down about four times, court heard.

When the light turned green, two cars in front of Ambrose promptly moved forward but she remained stationary until the cop shone a light into her car and she began to drive, court heard.

He pulled her over and gave her a ticket.

Ontario amended its Highway Traffic Act in 2009 to counter distracted driving by prohibiting driving “while holding or using a handheld wireless communication device.”

Ambrose argued this didn’t apply in her case.

Justice of the Peace Lloyd Phillipps rejected Ambrose’s testimony that, despite the multi-function of the electronic device that straps to the wrist and sometimes referred as an iWatch, she was only checking the time, which requires her to tap it once to activate and again to deactivate the display. Phillipps rejected her argument the watch wasn’t connected to an external communication device and that the Apple Watch being on her wrist satisfies an exemption for devices securely mounted inside the vehicle.

“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,” Phillipps said.

In the end, it was not the technology of the watch that doomed Ambrose, but human failing.

“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,” said Phillipps.

Cody Lawson, a Guelph paralegal who represented Ambrose in the Ontario Court of Justice, said Ontario’s laws must keep up with changes in technology.

“It’s new technology and technology keeps moving,” said Lawson.

“There is Google Glass (wearable computer eyeglasses) and much more wearable tech is coming. There is no strict law on using an e-watch or an iWatch. They need to determine if it is the same level of distraction as a cellphone. They really need to be specific on what you can and cannot do.”

Ambrose was fined $400.”


Drive With Handheld Communication Device is charged under Highway Traffic Act (HTA) section 78.1 as follows:

“78.1 (1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a hand-held wireless communication device or other prescribed device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, mail or text messages.  2009, c. 4, s. 2; 2015, c. 27, Sched. 7, s. 18.”

The standard fine for a conviction is $400.00 plus $90.00 for the victim fine surcharge and court cost ($490.00 total-payable fine).  Upon conviction the MTO enters the record of conviction into the defendant’s driving history along with a 3 demerit point penalty.  A conviction also comes with a mandatory suspension or license revocation for any novice driver such as a G1 or G2 license holder:

“If convicted of distracted driving, a novice driver (subject to the Graduated Licensing program) will be subject to escalating sanctions:

  • first occurrence will result in a 30-day license suspension
  • second occurrence will result in 90-day license suspension
  • license cancellation and removal from the Graduated Licensing System for a third occurrence”

A conviction for driving with a handheld communication device can also lead to a significant increase of insurance costs and could also lead to being placed into high-risk insurance coverage (a potentially unaffordable cost in remaining able to drive).

With the ever-expanding list of technological devices that we use day-to-day in making our lives easier and more convenient, this recent court ruling is certainly something to pay attention to.  Augmented-reality devices such as Google Glasses may become more popular and could become subject to similar court rulings.

As this expanding list of devices grows, we should be careful that as of January 1, 2019, the penalties for a conviction will be increased as follows:

“(6.1) Every person who contravenes this section is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable,

(a) for a first offence, to a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $1,000;
(b) for a first subsequent offence, to a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $2,000; and
(c) for a second subsequent or an additional subsequent offence, to a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $3,000. 2017, c. 26, Sched. 4, s. 16.


(6.2) If a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the Registrar shall suspend his or her driver’s license,

(a) for a first offence, for three days;
(b) for a first subsequent offence, for seven days; and
(c) for a second subsequent or an additional subsequent offence, for 30 days.  2017, c. 26, Sched. 4, s. 16.”

Have You Been Charged With Cell Phone Use Or Distracted Driving In Ontario?

If you’ve been charged with distracted driving in Ontario you should contact us as soon as possible. We have skill and experience in helping drivers just like you respond to accusations of cell phone use while driving or distracted driving and provide free, confidential consultations to empower you to fight your charges. We help drivers throughout Ontario including CambridgeGeorgetownLondonWindsor and from our home office in KitchenerContact us online or call us directly at 1.844.647.6869 or text us a copy of your ticket to 226-240-2480.