British Columbia

What you can and cannot do with your phone when driving

Criminal lawyer Kyla Lee explains what exactly is considered distracted driving in B.C.

Lawyer says rules around distracted driving mind-boggling and absurd

A phone secured within a vehicle can be used to map a route, but only if it's mounted in the right spot, doesn't distract the driver's eye from the road and the directions are loaded before driving. (David Horemans/CBC)

A distracted-driving ticket issued to a B.C. senior for charging her cellphone is raising questions about what is and is not legal when it comes to devices in cars. 

Randi Kramer was issued a $368 ticket for having her phone plugged in and sitting in her vehicle's cup holder. Kramer, who is in her 70s and had a pristine driving record, was unaware she was doing anything wrong.

Lawyer Kyla Lee challenged the ticket on Kramer's behalf and police cancelled the violation, clearing Kramer.

Still, Lee said the incident shows current laws make it hard for people to know exactly what is a punishable offence when it comes to phones and distracted driving.

According to the province's Motor Vehicle Act, a person driving cannot use the features or functions of a phone and some police officers interpret charging as a feature, Lee said. But the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that just charging a phone is not an offence and a person must be doing something else with the device to be found at fault, she added.

"It just boggles my mind," said Lee in an interview on CBC's The Early Edition. "Having the phone sitting there charging versus sitting there not charging, which is not an offence — there is no difference."

Lee said having a phone mounted on the dash — which is legal if the driver is not interacting with the device — is more distracting than having a phone in the centre console. Mounted phones are also legally allowed to operate as GPS devices as long as the route is pre-programmed before driving and voice directions are coming through the vehicle's speakers.

"That's where the absurdity, I find, in this law really lies," said Lee. "We know screen lights are designed to draw our eyes … yet it is perfectly lawful to have it mounted directly in your line of sight."

Lee said drivers can interact with their phones as long as their vehicle is in park. The engine can be on, said Lee, as long as the car is parked lawfully and not impeding traffic.

These rules don't just apply to vehicle drivers, Lee says — cyclists have the same rights and obligations as drivers under Section 183 of the province's Motor Vehicle Act.

Devices must be mounted to the handlebars or frame of the bike and cyclists can use a single earbud or wireless Bluetooth while riding. Violators will be ticketed, but will not have demerits applied to their driving record.

"It is one of the most significant tickets you can get under the Motor Vehicle Act," said Lee of distracted driving, noting it is classified as a high-risk offence. For vehicle drivers, it means an increase in insurance premiums.

Lee said she was confident legal precedent would be on her side in Kramer's case, the lawyer having won a previous case on similar circumstances before.

With files from CBC's The Early Edition


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