An incident in April involving a driver in British Columbia who was wearing earphones in both ears while her phone wad off drew national attention. The RCMP determined that, though her phone was dead, she was still guilty of distracted driving under provincial law.
In fact, the RCMP clarified in a 2017 Twitter post, drivers in BC are only permitted to wear a single earpiece while operating a vehicle. Since then, this rule has become a notorious example of the tricky traffic laws that Canadians must navigate.
#DYK that you may only drive with ONE ear bud in? 2 buds=$368 for use electronic device + 4 points #TicketTuesday https://t.co/4esA8SS1dN— BC Highway Patrol (@BC Highway Patrol)1497970811.0
To complicate matters further, each province has its own law that defines distracted driving and the specific criminal actions it constitutes. So, to clarify, we've compiled below rules about driving with earpieces and headsets in each province in Canada.
This list does is not a substitute for legal advice. Note also that while earphones and headsets are not explicitly banned in some provinces, they could still qualify as distracted driving if other violations have occurred (speeding, ignoring emergency vehicles, etc.)
Fines for distracted driving and links to other relevant information are included below each entry.
According to the Insurance Corportation of British Columbia, drivers must "keep [their] hands off" cellphones. "Hands-free means a Bluetooth, wired headset or speakerphone that can be operated with one touch or voice commands. Make sure to secure the cellphone to the vehicle or attach it on your body before driving."
"If the device includes an earpiece, that earpiece can be worn in one ear only and must be placed in the ear prior to driving," the BC Road Safety guide clarifies.
Fine for distracted driving: $368
The Alberta government website makes clear that "using an earphone" is "not specifically restricted under the law."
Fine for distracted driving: $287
In Saskatchewan, "hands-free use of cellphones while driving is allowed for experienced drivers, including headsets, either wired or wireless," according to the Saskatchewan Driver's Handbook.
Fine for distracted driving: $280
Fine for distracted driving: $672
The Ontario rules for distracted driving state that "while you are driving, including when you are stopped in traffic or at a red light, it is illegal to use a phone or other hand-held wireless communication device to text or dial" unless you must contact emergency services.
However, "you are allowed to use hands-free wireless communications devices with [a single] earpiece, lapel button or Bluetooth."
Fine for distracted driving: $615
The Société de l'assurance automobile (SAAQ) states that "the law is very clear: you must not use a cell phone or other portable electronic device while driving, unless it is a hands-free device."
But "the law allows only drivers of road vehicles to wear a headphone or earphone in only one ear, in order for the driver to hear the sounds of the surrounding environment. It is strictly prohibited to wear headphones or earphones in both ears."
Fine for distracted driving: $100 to $200
"In New Brunswick, the law does allow drivers to use a device in hands-free mode while operating a vehicle," the government website states.
Note, however, that "hands-free mode" has a specific definition: "hands-free is a mode of use in which the driver is able to keep both hands on the wheel. A device is considered to be operated in hands-free mode if it can be used exclusively by voice commands or by touching the device only once."
Headsets are not explicitly banned.
Fine for distracted driving (according to MacGillivray Insurance Law): $172.50
Nova Scotia has "fines for texting and using hand held cell phones" according to its website. Specific rules about earpieces and headsets are less clear. But CAA states that there is "no prohibition on wearing of headsets while driving" in the province.
Fine for distracted driving involving a cellphone (according to CAA): $233.95
Prince Edward Island
The government of PEI distinguishes between new and experienced drivers in its rules concerning distracted driving.
For all drivers "it is illegal to text, dial, chat, email or search using a hand-held communication device while driving on Prince Edward Island."
However, only for "Stage 1" and "newly licensed" drivers is the "use a hand-held cell phone" and "headphones" explicitly forbidden.
Fine for distracted driving: between $575 and $1,275
Newfoundland & Labrador
The CAA states that there is "no prohibition on wearing of headsets while driving" in the province. The Newfoundland & Labrador Road Users Guide states that drivers may "use a hands-free microphone."
Fine for distracted driving: $2,000
Be sure to always follow local traffic laws.
Safe driving, Canada!