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Ontario student charged with distracted driving for checking time on Apple Watch

In this April 10, 2015, file photo, a customer demonstrates the Apple Watch at an Apple Store in Tokyo.
In this April 10, 2015, file photo, a customer demonstrates the Apple Watch at an Apple Store in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)

A student at the University of Guelph learned the hard way that wearable tech counts as a distraction when you’re driving.

The student was charged under Ontario’s “distracted driving” law, the Highway Traffic Act, which was amended in 2009 to account for the growing use of mobile phones while driving. It now includes the phrase, “while holding or using a handheld wireless communication device.”

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Victoria Ambrose claims she was simply checking the time, which required her to tap the device to activate the display. She additionally argued that the watch wasn’t connected to her smartphone, or to any external communication device.

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Justice of the peace Lloyd Philipps delivered his judgement after a hearing on May 16. Ambrose submitted a statement claiming that she was only checking the time on her device while she was pulled over on the University of Guelph campus on April 24, according to Guelph Today.

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The officer reportedly noticed the glow of the watch, and noted the woman looking up and down at the screen. When the light turned green, Ambrose didn’t begin moving through the intersection until the officer shined his cruiser light into her car.

Philipps wouldn’t budge.

“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,” Philipps stated in his ruling.

“While 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,” he continued.

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Ambrose and the prosecutor agree on the timeline and details of the incident, but disagree on whether a smartwatch counts as a handheld device.

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“The evidence before me is that an Apple Watch is capable of receiving and transmitting electronic data. Ms. Ambrose testified that the watch was not connected to her phone, which was in the car with her at the time. It is abundantly clear from the evidence that Ms. Ambrose was distracted when the officer made his observations,” Phillipps stated in his decision.

Her lawyer noted that with changing technologies, in particular wearable technology, lawmakers need to be proactive about regulating the use of these devices in vehicles and other situations where they could potentially pose danger to the health and well being of the wearer.
Ambrose was fined $400 for the offence and has 90 days to pay the fine.

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