Across Canada, it’s illegal to talk or text on a cell phone or use another electronic device, such as an iPod or tablet, while driving a vehicle. But an Ontario court just ruled in two cases that simply holding the cell phone while behind the wheel was enough to violate the law.
The two cases (R. v. Pizzurro and R. v. Kazemi) have similar facts. In Kazemi, a woman was driving home when her cell phone, which had been on the seat, slid to the floor. She picked it up and when she stopped at a red light, an officer saw her holding the cell phone. In Pizzurro, the officer saw the driver with the cell phone in his hand.
In both cases, the drivers were charged with violating an Ontario law that says, “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.”
They were convicted but acquitted on appeal. The Court of Appeal reinstated both convictions.
The Court explained that the term “holding” wasn’t defined in the law and so the ordinary meaning of the word applied, which was to have a grip on or hold or support in the hands. There’s no requirement that such supporting be for a sustained period of time to qualify as holding.
The Court added that this interpretation of the term was consistent with the law’s purpose, which was to ensure safety on the roads. It said:
“Road safety is best ensured by a complete prohibition on having a cell phone in one’s hand at all while driving. A complete prohibition also best focuses a driver’s undivided attention on driving. It eliminates any risk of the driver being distracted by the information on the cell phone. It removes any temptation to use the cell phone while driving. And it prevents any possibility of the cell phone physically interfering with the driver’s ability to drive.”
In addition, the Court rejected the argument that the law required the cell phone being held to be actually capable of receiving and transmitting, calling it unreasonable for law enforcement and prosecution. It also noted that the “capable of” language referred to devices other than cell phones, which by definition are able to send and receive.
Bottom line: At least in Ontario, simply having a cell phone in your hand—even for a moment—while driving is a violation and can result in fines and points. So if you’re based in Ontario and your workers drive on the job, make sure that they’re aware of these decisions.
For more information on the hazards of distracted driving and related liability, go the OHS Insider’s Cell Phone and Other Electronic Devices Compliance Centre, which has, among other things:
- A cell phone use policy
- A video on the tragedies caused by distracted driving
- The dangers of texting while driving
- A briefing for senior management on company liability for distracted driving accidents
- A policy on using musical devices, such as iPods, on the job
- A Distracted Driving Infographic.