Asking Siri for Directions is not Distracted Driving (in Nova Scotia)

by John McKiggan

Using Voice Activated Navigation Isn’t “Using” a Phone?

In a recent decision Justice Jamie Campbell acquitted Ajirogho Enakeno Ikede of distracted driving. Ikede was holding his iphone and asking Siri for directions when he was pulled over by a police office. Police ticketed Ikede for distracted driving contrary to Section 100 of the Motor Vehicle Act. That section of the act states:

It is an offence for a person to use a hand held cellular telephone or engage in text messaging on any communications device while operating a vehicle on a highway” [emphasis added]

The defendant Ikede had been acquitted by Justice Claudine MacDonald and the Crown appealed. Justice Campbell dismissed the Crown’s appeal and confirmed that Ikede was not guilty of distracted driving. Campbell J. was concerned that the word “use” was not defined in the legislation.

Justice Campbell was of the opinion that using the voice activated GPS function on a phone was not the same as using the cell phone to make a telephone call. Justice Campbell stated at paragraph 4 of his decision:

“Use” does not encompass all interactions with handheld devices that have cellular telephone functionality. When the driver, without looking at the screen of the device, engaged a voice activated navigational system related directly to the safe operation of the vehicle through a handheld electronic communications device, he was not “using” a cellular telephone.”

Voice activated systems are still distracting!

I have to say that I respectfully disagree with Justice Campbell’s conclusion in this case. The purpose of this section of the Act is to protect the public from the dangerous effects of distracted driving. It is important to remember that distracted driving is now the number one cause of death on Nova Scotia highways.

In my voluteer work with I have learned that there are a number of ways that cell phones can cause distractions.

The perception is that drivers are only distracted when holding their cell phone and talking on their phone.

The reality is that research has found that even “hands free” technology like Siri’s voice activated navigational system can actually increase cognitive distractions.

AAA distractionsThere are numerous studies that show that using voice activated navigation systems or “hands free” blue tooth headsets increases cognitive distraction. A recent study by the American Automobile Association found that:

  • Listening to the radio was rated as a category 1 (low) distraction;
  • Talking on a hand free telephone resulted in a category 2 (moderate) distraction; and
  • Using voice recognition technology (like Siri) was found to be a category 3 (high) distraction.

The study also ranked the distraction of various voice activated systems in popular makes of cars. You will see that Apple Siri was ranked as a “High distraction”.

Amendments to distracted driving law necessary

Justice Campbell found that the legislation was deficient because it didn’t actually define wheat “use” meant.

For example, in New Brunswick the legislation specifically says that holding a telephone: “in a position in which it may be used, whether it is turned on or off” is an offence as well as “operating any of the devices functions”.

No common sense?

Justice Campbell’s decision contradicts a decision of Justice Chipman of the Nova Scotia a Supreme Court which was released last December in the R. v. Cullen Edward MacDonald. The defendant MacDonald was charged with texting while driving. MacDonald argued at trial that he was just holding his cell phone waiting for a friend to text him when he was caught by police. Therefore, because he wasn’t actually texting at the time he was pulled over he argued that he was not guilty of “using” a handheld cellular telephone.

MacDonald was acquitted in traffic court. The province appealed and Justice Chipman came down on the side of common sense and public safety.

At paragraph 16 of his decision Justice Chipman stated:

“In my view, the adjudicator erred in law by interpreting “use” in a manner that is inconsistent with the purpose of the specific section as well as the overall purpose of the MVA (Motor Vehicle Act). In this regard, the purpose of Section 100 (D)(1) is to prevent people from driving while distracted. Further, the purpose of the MVA is to regulate highway traffic in the interest of public welfare and safety.”

The dangers of distracted driving

Statistics Canada has reported that more than 2000 Canadians die every year as a result of distracted driving and more than 170,000 are injured every year. As I mentioned above, distracted driving is now the number one cause of fatalities one Nova Scotia highways causing more deaths than impaired driving and speeding.

In light of Justice Campbell’s decision we hope that the Province of Nova Scotia introduces an amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act to clarify what it means to use a cell phone while driving. Unfortunately, drivers and police cannot reply on common sense. Hopefully the legislation will amended to bring it in line with New Brunswick’s more all-encompassing rules.

End Distracted Driving

For a number of years now I have been volunteering with an organization called that does presentations in schools to help education students about the dangers of distracted driving.

The presentation tries to dispel some of the common myths surrounding distracted driving. During the presentations students learn that there are three different types of distractions that can impact your ability to drive safely.

VID00054-thumb1. Physical Distractions: things that require you to take your hands off the wheel like holding a coffee cup while driving.

2. Visual Distractions: any distraction that takes your eyes off the road. For example looking down at your radio to change the channel or looking at your cell phone to see if you have received a text; and

3. Cognitive Distractions: these are distractions that force you to concentrate on something other than the road. That includes holding a conversation over a Bluetooth headset or asking for, and listening to, directions from a voice operated navigational system.

Want more information about distracted driving?

If you are a teacher, parent or student at a Junior High or High School in Halifax Regional Municipality and would like more information about the End Distracted Driving presentations you can contact me for more information.

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