The dangerous link between cell phones and driving is well established. Besides being a frequent source of distraction, cell phones have been found to also significantly increase the chances of an accident. For instance, a study by Sunnybrook Hospital found texting while driving to be nearly ten times more dangerous than applying makeup while driving.[1]

The dangers of cell phones led the Ontario government to ban drivers from using or holding “wireless mobile devices” in 2009.[2] There have been several court cases involving cell phones and driving since then that have clarified the extent of the law. The courts have taken a hard stance on the issue.Today, almost every physical interaction between a driver and a cell phone is likely to be considered distracted driving.

In R v. Kazemi, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that having a cell phone in one’s hand, even for a brief instant, qualifies as distracted driving.[3] In R v. Pizzurro the court found that even the non-operation of a cell phone cannot save a defendant from a distracted driving conviction.[4] In the latter case, the driver claimed the phone was turned off when handled.

The courts’ strict approach to cell phone use was influenced by statements by the government when related laws were enacted. Specifically, both cases referenced the Minister of Transportation who described the relevant law “as eyes on the road, hands on the wheel legislation”. The advice to Ontario drivers would be to heed the Minister’s description, as it seems to capture the courts’ interpretation of the issue so far.

With these decisions, the courts have expanded what it means to be a distracted driver. Ideally, this strict approach will encourage drivers to be more careful and attentive while on public roadways. There will also be important implications for those drivers who continue to ignore these new decisions. Aside from an increased likelihood of being charged, their actions make it more likely for them to also be found at fault in personal injury cases.

[3]R. v. Kazemi, 2013 ONCA 585 (CanLII)
[4]R. v. Pizzurro, 2013 ONCA 584 (CanLII)