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Judge finds that interacting with a GPS device is the same as “engaging in text messaging on a communication device.”

December 20, 2018

Conviction under the Motor Vehicle Act upheld

A judge of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court has determined, on an appeal of a distracted driving offence, that entering coordinates into a GPS unit is equivalent to “engaging in text messaging on a communication device.”

In R. v Anand, Mr. Anand was appealing a conviction that found he had violated the Motor Vehicle Act provisions that prohibit, while driving, “use[ing] a hand-held cellular telephone or engage[ing] in text messaging on any communications device.” Anand had been pulled over by a police officer who initially accused him of texting on an iPhone. The accused disputed that and said he was entering coordinates into this GPS unit. This was determined by the adjudicator to be an admission of guilt and he was convicted.

On appeal before Justice Gabriel, the questions to be determined by the court were whether the accused was “text messaging” when interacting with his GPS unit and whether the GPS unit is a “communications device”. To do this, the Court turned to principles of statutory interpretation and focused on the question of the mischief intended to be addresses.

In its analysis, the Court referred to another Nova Scotia case, R v Ikede, where the accused was speaking to the voice assistant on his smartphone. The Court in that case decided that the interpretation of ‘use’ ought to hinge on the evil that the Legislature aimed to address – that is, preventing drivers from using devices in manners that distract them from the task of driving. There, the use of the voice system did not require Ikede to take his eyes of the road. In R v MacDonald, the accused was looking at his phone to determine whether he had received a text – he was not calling or texting anyone. The Court found the term “use” in the statute included holding the device in anticipation of an incoming message as it would distract a person from keeping their eyes on the road. The Court also referred to , where the accused was using Google Maps on her phone, which was seen to be “use” on the basis that the legislation was intended to prevent distractions while driving.

Using a very purposive analysis, the Court determined that there is effectively very little difference between “messaging” within the scope of an interpersonal conversation and entering coordinates into a GPS system to get information from the system (both involve the input of information in the anticipation of the receipt of a response). Thus, entering information into the device is found to be “text messaging”.

The Court easily determined that the GPS is a “device”. For the determination of whether it is a “communication device”, the Court again did a functional analysis finding there is little difference between a conversation and the input of data into the device in the anticipation of a response from the device. A key factor for the Court was that data entry required Anand to take his eyes from the road while operating his vehicle. Because the GPS unit facilitates an exchange of information, the Court found it to be a “communication device” and that entering coordinates or an address qualifies as text messaging. As a result, the appeal was denied and the conviction under the Motor Vehicle Act was upheld.

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