Distracted Driving month initiatives have one B.C. lawyer calling into question how recent legal decisions align with police department’s understandings of the law.
Earlier this month, the Surrey RCMP and the Surrey Police Service joined forces with ICBC for “Operation Hang Up,” a campaign to remind drivers to leave their phones alone while driving.
Surrey RCMP and Surrey police service were at Highway 10 and 152 Street looking for drivers who were on their phones. Anyone caught was issued a ticket. Cell watch volunteers were also reminding drivers to leave their phones alone.
Sgt. Jason Barrett with Surrey RCMP’s traffic enforcement unit said that the motor vehicle act allows drivers to activate their phones with one single touch and nothing more.
Barrett said it is also considered distracted driving for drivers to have their phone loose on the passenger seat. “Under the motor vehicle act and regulations, it has to be affixed to your vehicle so it cannot move around because that also is a distraction.”
Kyla Lee, a Vancouver defence lawyer, told the Now-Leader that this is not the case.
In 2019, Lee took a case to the B.C. Supreme Court where the Judge ruled it is not illegal to have your phone loose on your passenger seat or in the cup holder. Lee said what it comes down to, is whether or not you are actively using your phone.
“Nobody is trained or informed of the law, nobody’s actually clearing their comms through a lawyer who’s familiar with it,” Lee said.
“The public messaging is incorrect. No wonder the public’s confused.”
Lee added that a lot of confusion stems from the fact the laws need to be updated to align with technology.
“There is no logic behind the law based on how we use our phones now.”
For instance, she said it is currently prohibited under the law to dictate a text message.
And while Sgt. Barrett was correct when he said drivers are allowed to activate their phones with a single touch, Lee said the single touch is only allowed to answer calls. It does not allow for changing a song or changing your GPS.
It does not matter what type of phone mount you are using as long as it is securely mounted to your vehicle and is not at risk of falling. Also, it must not block your field of view or gear shift. Because of that a window mount is not allowed, as it obstructs your view.
How ICBC handles distracted driving
A ticket for distracted driving is $368 plus four penalty points on a person’s driving record.
Joanne Bergman, the road safety co-ordinator for ICBC, said on average about 77 people die every year in B.C. due to distracted driving, making it the second leading cause of car crashes in the province.
“It’s not acceptable,” Bergman said. “We’re hoping that today by giving some more education and enforcement to remind drivers about putting away their phones that it goes a long way,” Bergman said.
The distracted driving law applies when your vehicle is stopped at a red light or slowed in traffic.
Surrey RCMP said that “distracted driving is considered any non-driving activity that impacts a driver’s ability to focus on the road.”
Bergman added that most people who are caught distracted driving are using an electronic device.
“We have (also seen) a lot of people with pets on their lap, eating a hamburger, grabbing a coffee, using their GPS on a handheld device,” Bergman said. “We just need to get people to stop looking at other things and pay attention to the roads.”
Hit with a ticket you may not feel is justified? Lee reminded drivers it doesn’t cost money to argue the ticket later before a judge.
“You don’t want to do anything that would escalate the situation,” Lee said. “So just take the ticket, fight it in court.”