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The lamest excuses police hear for distracted driving

Nothing, it seems, will stop some drivers from using their cellphones while behind the wheel. Not steep fines, not demerit points — not even the higher probability of a serious crash and death.

Frustrated police have resorted to dressing like panhandlers on street corners to catch offenders. They’re using powerful cameras in B.C., conducting education campaigns in Ottawa and elsewhere, using motorcycles that make it easier to look down inside other vehicles — and in Ontario, they’re considering the idea of putting signs on highways to alert drivers about upcoming areas where they can safely pull over to text or check emails. Yet the excuses keep coming.

According to the Ottawa Police — which recently issued 70 tickets over one week for distracted driving, and on another saw one officer issue 28 tickets alone in the downtown core — people will outright lie when caught, act ignorant or stupid, and sometimes argue with the officer that they weren’t doing anything illegal. Here is a roundup of excuses given to police when a driver is caught using a handheld device. Be aware that none will get you out of a ticket.

“I was just checking the time on my phone” — to the officer who noted a wristwatch on the driver and a clock on the car’s dash.

“I’m from Toronto, I thought it was only a local law.” (Driving laws are set by the provinces across Canada.)

“I wasn’t texting, I was checking email.”

“I don’t have my phone with me,” to the officer who heard a phone start to ring.

“I’m only reading.”

“It’s not a communication device, I’m using it as a radio.”

“I was placing an important bet in Las Vegas on the UFC.”

“I thought I could use it at a red light,” to the officer who recorded the driver stopped at an intersection through two red-light cycles.

“But I had it set to airplane mode,” to the officer who noted Ontario legislation says the device only has to be “capable” of transmitting, regardless of whether it is doing so while in use.

“I wasn’t using the phone, I was only checking my GPS for navigation.” (Police say this is a frequent response.)

Other police forces in other jurisdictions report an equally astonishing array of responses.

“My dad could buy you,” to the Abbotsford, B.C., police officer who responded: “Get him to buy two of me, I could use the help.”

“You can’t give me a ticket for this. I got one last week!”

“I wasn’t on my phone, I was holding it. I have to hold it. I can’t let it go.”

“I have a new girlfriend and our song came on the radio, so I had to call her.”

Another motorist caught in the act told police they liked the song they were listening to and were trying to identify it on the mobile app Shazam, which tells listeners the name of a song while it’s playing.

“I was only looking at a photo. Drivers using their mobiles really annoy me.”

“You only stopped me because I’m in a Porsche.”

“It wasn’t my phone, it was my comb. I was doing my hair.” Or the similar: “I wasn’t on my phone, I was shaving.”

“I was just phoning the school to tell them I’ll be late picking my son up.”

“It was my boss on the phone — I had to answer it.” Police report similar “had to answer” excuses for girlfriend, boyfriend, mother, wife, husband, work — even wedding planner.

“My Bluetooth died.”

“I was just setting up my hands free.”

“I’m only using my speakerphone,” to the police officer who replied: “No, you’re holding your phone in one hand and steering with the other.”

“Sorry officer, I didn’t see you trying to pull me over because I was on my phone.”

“I drive better than most people.”

Last fall, Ontario raised penalties for distracted driving, with a set fine of $490 that a judge could increase to $1,000, plus three demerit points on conviction. Other provinces have similar penalties:

B.C. (effective June 1): $368 fine (plus $175 insurance penalty) for the first offence, $368 (plus $520 insurance penalty, with possible driving prohibition) for the second offence within 12 months, $368 (plus $1,260 insurance penalty) for the third offence; 4 demerits. New drivers face possible prohibition after the first offence.
Alberta: $287 fine, 3 demerits
Saskatchewan: $287 fine, 4 demerits
Manitoba: $200 fine, 5 demerits
Quebec: $115-$145 fine, 4 demerits
Nfld., Labrador: $100-$400 fine, 4 demerits
P.E.I: $500-$1,200 fine, 5 demerits
Nova Scotia: $233.95 fine for the first offence, $348.95 for the second offence, $578.95 for subsequent offences; 4 demerits
New Brunswick: $172.50 fine, 3 demerits
Yukon: $250 fine, 3 demerits
N.W.T: $322 fine, 3 demerits

Despite the fines, “we’re still seeing it every single day,” say police. Troy Froats, a constable with the Ottawa Police traffic unit, says the force’s “Leave the Phone Alone” campaign appears to be working, and is expanding to reach more schools and the local health unit. He advises the following:

● Put your phone in the trunk, glovebox or back seat, so you aren’t tempted to use it
● Turn off your phone
● Safely pull over to the shoulder of the road or a parking lot before using the phone
● As a passenger, remind the driver to focus on their driving if they reach for the phone — take responsibility for your safety
● Ensure the person you are contacting is not engaged in driving; if they are, tell them to call you back when it is safe to do so

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Shelina Lalji is an Elected Bencher at the Law Society of Ontario. While an Executive for 7 years at POINTTS™, Shelina Lalji also focused on advancing the paralegal profession and Access to Justice.

In 2015, Shelina founded Shelina Lalji Professional Corporation and became the Master Franchisee of POINTTS™, both in Ontario and Manitoba.


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