Siri defence upheld in Nova Scotia distracted driving case
Justice Jamie Campbell says Motor Vehicle Act does not precisely describe what's not allowed
The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia has upheld a provincial court decision that a man who was using the Siri feature on his iPhone to ask for directions is not guilty of distracted driving.
In Nova Scotia, it is illegal to use a cellphone while driving, except in emergency situations. The case hinged on how the word "use" is defined under section 100 of the Motor Vehicle Act.
In his 25-page ruling, Justice Jamie Campbell said the definition of the word "use" under the legislation is difficult for people to understand and does not provide a precise description of what's not allowed.
The legal saga began when Ajirogho Enakeno Ikede was driving his vehicle along Commercial Street in New Minas, N.S. Police noticed Ikede had a cellphone in his right hand and pulled him over. Ikede had been using Siri, a piece of software found on iPhones, to ask for directions.
What constitutes using a cellphone?
Campbell said whether a phone is being "used" depends on the context, which in this case was the question of distracted driving. He said just using a handheld device with cellular telephone functionality does not necessarily constitute use.
"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 communication device, he was not 'using' a cellular telephone," Campebell wrote.
Campbell said legislation found in other provinces is more specific about what constitutes use. For example, he pointed to New Brunswick where part of the legislation says holding a hand-operated electronic device, regardless of whether it is turned on, is considered use.
"In Nova Scotia, the section does not provide that kind of direction. It would be unfortunate if the important safety issue of distracted driving is left to a series of judicial decisions," Campbell wrote. "Needless to say at this point, that is not a recipe for clarity."