British Columbia

New drivers shouldn't get a ticket for having a phone in sight, rules B.C. judge

The decision is expected to provide more clarity on murky distracted driving regulations, with the ruling judge outlining the definition of using a device while driving. 

Man wins appeal for distracted driving conviction because device wasn't being used

The ruling said an electronic device can be mounted in a vehicle driven by a driver with an 'N' designation as long as it's not used. (David Horemans/CBC)

Even if an electronic device is visible in the car of a new driver, it doesn't mean they're using it, according to a recent ruling in B.C. Supreme Court.

That decision is expected to provide more clarity on murky distracted driving regulations, with the ruling judge outlining the definition of using a device while driving. 

In April 2018, Hunter John Sangret was pulled over by a police officer in Burnaby who saw an electronic device mounted inside Sangret's vehicle, according to court documents.

Sangret held a Class 7 "N" driver's licence, which restricts drivers from using an electronic device while driving, even in hands-free mode.

However, drivers with a full licence can use hands-free mode as long as the device is mounted.

Despite never seeing Sangret hold, touch or use the device — as well as admitting the screen remained black during the entire interaction — the officer gave him a ticket.

Sangret fought the ticket in provincial court, but lost.

He was found guilty because "driving with a device in plain sight constituted use of that device," according to the documents.

'N' drivers are not allowed to use an electronic device while driving, even if it's in hands-free mode. (CBC)

But Sangret wasn't satisfied with the definition of use, calling it "an unreasonable verdict because there was no evidence that he had used the device in any way" and he appealed it to the Supreme Court of B.C.

And surprisingly, the Crown agreed, backing down on the conviction and requesting that the verdict be switched to an acquittal, which Supreme Court Justice Watchuk obliged.

The meaning of 'use'

During the trial, both parties requested that the meaning of "use" be clarified.

In her reasons for judgment, Justice Watchuk broke down the word "use" as follows:

  • Holding the device in a position in which it may be used.
  • Operating one or more of the device's functions.
  • Communicating orally through the device with another person or another device.
  • Watching the screen of an electronic device. 

Justice Watchuk agreed that "a device in plain view is more likely to tempt a driver to distraction than one that has been safely stowed away in a pocket or a glove compartment," but merely driving with it plain view is not illegal.

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