SteinbachOnline had a great article recently about the Steinbach RCMP actively looking for drivers who are using their cell phones while driving. Check out the full article here, Steinbach RCMP Nab Texters. Forty people were given tickets for $203.80 and drivers also face 2 demerits as well. Some people thought it was okay to talk on their cell phone if they used speaker phone and others thought it was okay to text while waiting at a red light.
In order to help clarify what you can and cannot do with a cell phone while driving, the best thing is to turn to the laws under the Highway Traffic Act here in Manitoba. Section 215.1 is the where the offence is defined and outlined.
A "hand-operated electronic device" is defined to include:
- cellular telephone
- another electronic device that includes a telephone function and is normally held in a hand or needs a hand to operate the device
- an electronic device that can send or receive email or text-based messages and is normally held in a hand or needs a hand to operate the device (e.g. an iPod touch)
- any other device listed in the regulations of the act
The word "use" is defined to include:
- holding the device in a position in which it may be used
- operating any of the device's functions
- communicating by means of the device with another person or another device
- looking at the device's display
- any other actions listed in the regulations of the act
So, to be clear, even if you glance down at your iPhone that is sitting in the cupholder of your car to check the time or preview a message, you are "using" the device and breaking the law. If you use your phone to play music in your car and you switch songs using the phone, you are "using" the device. If you mount your cell phone on the dash of your car, you are "using" the device every time you look at the screen of your phone, whether the phone's screen is actually on or not. You don't have to be holding the phone in your hand to be guilty of the offence, you simply have to be using it in one of the ways the law descibes above.
The law says you are NOT allowed to use a hand-operated electronic device while driving a vehicle on a highway UNLESS:
- before using the device, you safely drive your vehicle OFF THE ROADWAY and then keep the vehicle stationary while using the device, or
- the device is set up to allow hands-free use as a telephone and it is used in a hands-free manner (this is why using a Bluetooth headset is still legal or a built in phone system in your vehicle)
- you are using a hand-operated electronic device with your hand to call or send a message to a police force, fire department or ambulance service about AN EMERGENCY (so you're allowed to make calls to 911 for emergency situations while driving)
So, now you hopefully know more about what you can and what you cannot do with a mobile phone in your car in Manitoba. If a fine and demerits aren't enough to encouarge you to follow the rules, using a phone while driving draws your attention away from the road and can lead to motor vehicle accidents. If you are texting before an accident and someone is injured or killed, you would likely be facing criminal charges and maybe even a jail sentence.
My advice is to buy a good Bluetooth headset to take phone calls and then leave your cellphone in a back seat or the trunk so it is out of reach and temptation.
About the author
Michael Dyck is a partner at Rees & Dyck Criminal Defence. He represents clients primarily from Winnipeg, Steinbach, and rural Manitoba. He has extensive experience helping people charged with criminal offences and focuses on building legal strategy with clients. To read more of his articles, please visit his partner's website TomRees.ca.