Quebec police call Apple Watch 'hand-held phone', ticket man for changing music while driving

You can't even pull over and use one. You have to be parked in a legitimate space. The problem here, though, is that the Apple watch isn't a handheld phone. Technology is once again misaligned with the law. CTV News:

The self-described gadget lover said he thought he was permitted to watch his new Apple Watch while driving, so long as he wasn't tapping away on his smartphone."I have it in the bag charging while the auxiliary cable is plugged into the radio and this controls my phone to play the music. So I was changing songs with my hand on the steering wheel," said Macesin, who was leaving Pincourt heading to Highway 20."Going towards Vaudreuil, there was a cop car behind me and he didn't have his lights on yet, but then he turned them on and I thought maybe he just wanted me to get out of the way. I was just confused," he said.Macesin was pulled over and slapped with the ticket under Section 439.1 of the Quebec Highway Safety Code that reads:"No person may, while driving a road vehicle, use a hand-held device that includes a telephone function." Macesin argues that technically he wasn't using or holding a phone.

I'm obviously not a lawyer, but here's my long-standing problem with Quebec and some other jurisdictions — we make traffic laws covering objects rather than behavior.

An Apple Watch is a peripheral, in some ways no different than a Bluetooth speakerphone. What's more, it has functions like navigation that have nothing to do with telephony. Moreover, when I used to commute to work and back every day, I routinely saw people eating, reading, putting on make up and doing hair, and otherwise engaging in all sorts of reckless behavior behind the wheel.

Imagine if we handled assault this way. "You can't hit someone with a baseball bat." "I hit them with a rolling pin." "Oh, well... um..." We, rightly, say, "You can't hit someone!"

A distracted driving law, one that covers the behavior rather than the object, would make more sense to me. That way, if someone has a newspaper open on the steering wheel, the police could ticket them. If someone else is simply saying "Hey Siri, play Arcade Fire" the police could leave them be.

The driver in this case is contesting the ticket. I don't blame him. Not because I support distracted driving, but because I support making distracted driving the prohibition. If someone is using an Apple Watch in a way that distracts them, ticket some sense into them. If they're using an Apple Watch in a way that's the same as perfectly legal hands-free calling, navigation, or infotainment centers, then don't.

What do you think?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Makes sense to me. Making a hands free call on my Gear is one thing but if I am swiping apps, doing quick replies or changing music it's eyes off the road and dangerous. Posted via S6 Edge
  • Can't wait to get my sport model delivered but won't be using it driving. I reckon it is lethal twisting one arm to face u while using the other hand to press and swipe. Sent from the iMore App
  • If you can relay the call through the watch, it's a telephone function. Then again, it's wrist device not a handheld. So what's this about a certain text message shutting down iPhones?
  • So can people there not talk on a Bluetooth speaker? Like no phone calls at all at any time while on the road? Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Was waiting for this to pop up. Sent from the iMore App
  • If the use of his watch was significant enough for a police officer behind him to actually see it, then one has to wonder if he appeared to be exhibiting distracted behavior. While the law may be about using a telephone device while driving, it's probably near impossible for a police officer to tell exactly what you are doing with it. How is a police officer supposed to know exactly how distracted your behavior is without actually waiting until you behave dangerously behind the wheel? This argument seems reasonable on the surface but would be far more unrealistic to implement than you are implying. Using phones while driving is related to increased accidents with more visually distracting activities being the primary cause. I appreciate the watch is a new device so people are going to want to argue it's not a phone etc, but it can do telephony and texting and the spirit of the law seems pretty clear. Sent from the iMore App
  • Always interesting how the spirit of the law always applies to the little person but the letter of the law is what applies to the politicians and the rich.
  • The accused said they used the steering wheel controls though. So no touching of the device face apparently was present so I don't get any of it. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • But then what did the cop see him doing? He had to have been interacting with the watch enough for the cop to notice. Sent from the iMore App
  • I do this all the time, hopefully I won't get pulled over! Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Thats so dumb, so whats the difference between changing music on the watch and changing music on the car radio? Its the same crap because you are using the other hand to change in the car radio
  • I think you are dumb if you seriously think both tasks are similar. Sent from the iMore App
  • Changing the radio is more dangerous. Not only are eyes off the road, you're stretching over. Sent from the iMore App
  • Don't change radio when you're speeding down the road then, it's simple. There's enough traffic and traffic lights to bring you to a stop to change station safely. Sent from the iMore App
  • Excellent point. There are many things that can distract a driver, especially children. Eating and applying makeup can be distractions, as well. I can't imagine that we will be able to legislate against every distraction. The point, as with so many things in life, is to use good judgment.
  • Yep... attention to a device, whether it's a smart-phone or a smart-watch means your eyes, and attention, are not 100% where they should be. Many parents and significant others have pushed for these laws to save lives, not for others to write negative self-serving blog entries.
  • Have you seen the touch screen radios in modern cars?! The ONLY thing you can't do while in motion is pair a Bluetooth device. Sent from the iMore App
  • This is a stupid argument, tell it to the person pinned under a car because the driver was busy playing with their watch. The law isn't about using your phone or whether a smartwatch isn't a phone, it's about distracted drivers.
  • But doing it on an infortainment center, which can be just as distracting, is legal. If you don't want distractions, I think it's better to focus on that than specific devices?
  • Most car systems disable various functionality like playing videos when you are out of park. Most consoles are also laid out with focus to the road. Newer cars are also building the functions into the steering wheel. Are you telling me you can't switch a radio station without keeping your eyes on the road in your car? With that said, go to Quebec or any other place that has similar laws, drive in front or beside a police officer and start fiddling in a distracted way with your radio or car navigation. See what happens. The law is about preventing people from killing others. Also as several people have pointed out...for a police officer to have noticed what he was doing, he must have been pretty involved in it. A better article would have been based on situations like this and bringing up a discussion on the emerging technologies where car manufactures are integrating smartphones into their console vs distracted drivers, the consequences, possible solutions etc.
  • Then make the law about distracted driving not about the device that's causing distraction. For instance putting make up on or even eating while driving. I do agree that the law should be about the behavior. He shouldn't have been using his watch cause no matter how the law words it its still distracted driving.
  • The wording in the Quebec law as will as other places with similar laws have those things covered. The same wording covers electronics. I'm guessing electronics were specifically added above and beyond the generic wording because people simply weren't getting the message. They still don't. I see people driving around with phones attached to their ears every time. Almost got hit by a few too!
  • This is exactly the point that I have been making ever since the rush to ban cell phone use in cars first started. It is nothing more than a redundant series of laws that were passed in reaction to emotions and in defiance of logic.
  • You're right that the law was based on reaction to emotions. I guess it's pretty emotional when someone loses a family member because some idiot had their eyes glued to their phone instead of the road.
  • So many comments here make me think so few actually read the whole article. The accused said they weren't even touching the watch, but using the steering controls. The ticket then has no validity. No different than regularly using the steering controls for any reason. Using the device is bad yes, but if this is what we have to look forward to then we are all worse off for it. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I seen him being interviewed on Canadian news. He said he was using the watch while driving. Sent from the iMore App
  • You need to go back and read the article. The driver stated he was changing music while his hand was on the steering wheel, no where did he state he was using the controls on the steering wheel. He very easily could have been tapping away on his watch with his other hand. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Totally misread that. Apologies. Then I agree with the cop. The point of the law is to limit the number of peripherals that distract a driver. By using what is allowed / factory installed you are OK. Certain features are disabled to limit distraction while on watches and phones it is not. The laws have set their standards and the standard is use only what is available to you from the vehicle essentially. And I agree so I do hope he loses his appeal or whatever it is. I know of many people who have been ticketed for distracted driving for things like read or eating and even drinking coffee. The drinking makes no sense and to so.e extent neither does the eating. But he was clearly in the wrong in this instance. There is NO need to use your Smartwatch while driving. NONE! Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I agree it's better to legislate behaviour rather than objects. Next step, I would like to be able to drink a beer while driving as long as I am not over the legal limit.
  • Agree. Police can be like damn robots. They enforce the law, don't interpret it. Hope he wins in court. Would be nice to hear how it turns out. Sent from the iMore App
  • Police don't enforce the law. They use the law to generate revenue for the city.
  • "No person may, while driving a road vehicle, use a hand-held device that includes a telephone function" The Apple Watch includes a telephone function. Case closed. I like Apple as much as the next person on here but we can't applaud when some nerd wearing Google Glass gets pulled over and then get all defensive when it's an Apple product. They're both equally distracting, like.
  • Explain how it qualifies as hand-held?
  • You're ignoring the spirit of the law. This isn't a constitutional case, it a lower court statute case. If you think any lower court judge (particularly in Canada, rather than the United States) is going to reverse a ticket because the original legislators failed to clarify that a wearable counts as hand held you've been watching too much West Wing. You can put an iPhone in an armband but I don't think that's gonna stop you getting a ticket if you try to use it while driving.
  • Ask any defense lawyer about spirit of the law. The device was not held in any hand. No law broken. If it don't fit, you must acquit. Sent from the iMore App
  • It takes two hands to use a smart watch, which seems much worse than using your iPhone. The charge seems correct because he certainly was distracted. Sent from the iMore App
  • This driver should be charged by the police for dangerous driving. If you have an iphone you have the ability for hands free while driving.
  • Hangon- That law specifically states "While Driving". So, if his car was parked and either not in "Drive" if an automatic, or in Neutral with the emergency brake on if it was a manual transmission, the car would've been "parked" and wouldn't have violated this law. It follows then that if you are in a parked car using you're phone or Apple watch, you're not driving and therefore, not violating this law. Park the car, change your songs, no violation. Since he was driving and using a device that was dependent on his phone, he'll probably lose the fight against this ticket. Do you get to tint your Windows in Canada?
  • "While driving," has come to mean many things. When it comes to DUI, being parked but keys in hand or within reach still qualifies.
  • There's a big difference between DUI and the subject of this article- Using an Apple watch while driving the car. As relates to this article, "while driving" means that the car is "moving". Nit picking cops here in the USA may attempt to conclude that if the car is in "Drive" (automatic) while your foot is on the brake or in first gear while your foot is on the brake (manual) that even if the car isn't moving, it is in "drive mode", but that doesn't stick in a court of law here. A lawyer can read from that law and easily challenge and win just by pointing out that if the car wasn't "moving" and was actually "parked" and not at a stop light waiting for a green light, that the car was not being "driven" while using a phone or device that is dependent on the phone. It's true that one should not be distracting themselves with a device while driving. My point is don't be "driving". Park the car. I've sat in a parked car with the car on using my phone and had cops both walk by and drive by and not attempt to ticket me, and I'm in a State of the USA where we have laws against using a Phone without using a headset or hands free, while "driving". No one here gets ticketed for using a phone or phone dependent device in a parked car. People get pulled over here all the time while holding the handset to their faces, but no one here gets pulled over while talking into a Bluetooth headset, because that is both allowed and mandated HERE, by law. Perhaps that sort of thing is handled differently in Canada, Since the guy was driving and the Apple watch can answer your phone, it's considered to be a wrist mounted phone extension and he'll lose because he was "driving" the car. It wasn't parked. He'd have had a chance if it was parked, but he was driving. Just pay the ticket and move on.
  • TLDR it all, anyway, there's no difference in the eyes of the law. The DUI can of worms was opened and set the standard. Now, it will apply across the board in determination of what constitutes "driving."
  • You can't tint your windows while driving your car, you have to be stationary to do that...
    :p Sent from the iMore App
  • I wonder what this will mean for Car Play? As long as you can touch the carplay screen aren't you using a device capable of being a telephone? Sent from the iMore App
  • There is a Chevrolet ad where they have on the screen something to look at for txt messaging if you are driving to avoid distracted driving, in reality it is distracted driving. Sent from the iMore App
  • How hard would it have been for him to change the music with steering wheel controls or on the head unit itself? At least those you can do with one hand and have physical (or bigger touch) targets to aim for. To use the watch he would have to twist the hand that he's wearing it on to wake the watch and then use the other hand to tap or swipe. That's a two-handed operation to me, so no hands left to control the car. Totally deserves a ticket, if only for not noticing there was cop watching him do this. If he'd waited until he was 500ft away, he'd have got away with it..!
  • Impossible since he was listening to music playing from his phone via an audio cable which had no connection to the car controls.
  • Agree letter of the law should shift to prohibit the behavior, but tapping and swiping on the watch is probably against the spirit of the law. This coming from someone who admittedly has done it and found it potentially dangerous. Using Siri helps. Sent from the iMore App
  • @LeightonLaVell well put.
  • Time to get those driverless cars figured out, so distracted drivers can focus on their devices and let the car do the driving.
  • Makes me wonder what will happen when the self-driving Apple Car arrives... Will tickets go away?
  • No. You still won't be able to talk on your phone (or tint your windows) while the car is in motion or "being driven" whether by you or your CPU. :-)
  • You guys really ought to put the word "Editorial" at the top of posts where you state your own opinion.
  • Obviously this won't hold up in court. Charges will be dismissed or the guy ticketed will sue for wrongful ticketing<3
  • Basically you can't even change a radio station on your deck by hand. That would be considered distracted driving. Lol. Sent from the iMore App
  • So, he was interacting with the watch, meaning he was looking at the watch at the time, not the road. Not to mention, you technically can make calls with the watch without picking up the phone? I'm not sure how someone can reasonably argue that he was not in violation of the law he was ticketed for. Sent from the iMore App
  • Distracted driver or not, the ticket is contestable in court because the officer cited the wrong law in Quebec. He should not have cited law 439.1, which stipulates driving with an object with a screen with cellular functions in your hand. If he believes the driver was driving distracted, he should have cited either 439 (using a screen in the vehicule), 442 (driving with a person or object obstructing your view) or 327 (reckless driving). In a recent interview, the SAAQ (gov agency that regulates driving in Quebec) actually stated smartwatches don't fall under 439.1, unless the watch is held in the persons hand.
  • I can remember back in the old days when I had to reach down to eject a cassette tape and manually flip it to the other side! It was a driving distraction, but it was the norm for those days. As for the Apple watch, today I used Siri to replay the playlist on my iPhone (concealed within my purse) which is connected via Bluetooth to my car's speakers. Piece of cake and took all of two seconds! Of course, I had the good sense to 'Hey Siri' while stopped at a light. I didn't even look at the watch (kept my eyes on the light and the road) but my left hand was at 10 o'clock on the steering wheel. Siri took it from there. The music played, the light turned green, and I was good to go. No touching or swiping needed.
  • My minibus driver today received a call on his Apple Watch, kept talking about 5 minutes. Later I asked him what's the deal, why not use the iPhone. He:"You see, all these busses have 4-5 security cameras, one is shooting me, and you are not allowed to use your phone, but they can't see if you are talking to your Apple Watch. It's great, we are about to buy a new apartment and I get lot of calls. When I drive a tour bus I tell the AW:"Hey Siri, play" or "Hey Siri, play next song" and it will play the introduction to the landmark when we pass, all from my iPhone".