Emergency Alert May Be Only Time Drivers Can Look at their Phone

According to a new report from The Huffington Post, drivers may look at their phone if its an emergency alert without being penalized for distracted driving.

Holding and using your phone while behind the wheel is against the law in most parts of Canada, with the exception of using the phone as a GPS if it’s properly mounted. Two legal professionals in Canada said that checking an emergency alert notification could actually fall under the provincial laws that allow drivers to contact emergency services.

In a statement, Toronto paralegal Frank Alfano said:

“That would be the immediate thing I would think of as a defence. Because it’s not a message that would come from a friend or anyone else, it literally comes from a service that the government has initiated, and it’s supposed to be reserved only for emergencies.”

However, Alfano said that this could vary due to the nature of the alert. For example, an amber alert may not be taken the same way as a natural disaster.

“I think it should be a successful defence, it hasn’t been tested yet, and so it should result in acquittal, but I can imagine a prosecutor saying, ‘well, no one understood the nature of the emergency, the emergency wasn’t imminent.”

B.C. lawyer Sarah Leamon also said that in Canada checking an emergency alert could be argued in court as an exemption. In a statement, Leamon said:

“There’s going to be a lot for the courts to interpret in the future because this is all new technology. It absolutely is uncharted territory.”

The emergency alert system will play a sound on your phone regardless of whether or not your device is in silent mode. For most people, this would be very hard to ignore when you are driving, especially if you know that the alert means there could be imminent danger.