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A recent ruling in a B.C. courtroom has set a new precedent for how distracted driving laws will be enforced across the province.
The decision made headlines this month following an appeal by a driver convicted of using an electronic device despite the cellphone not being in the motorist’s hands.
According to the driver’s lawyer, Kyla Lee with Acumen Law, a Vancouver police officer observed her client looking down while behind the wheel.
Lee said the officer walked up to the window of the vehicle and saw a cell phone wedged in the front passenger seat.
The screen was facing up, but it was not illuminated.
“Despite the phone’s screen not being illuminated, the officer ticketed the driver on the basis of the belief that a loose phone within the driver’s presence was enough to commit the offense of distracted driving,” explained Lee.
As a result, the driver disputed the ticket, but lost when a traffic court judge ruled that a loose phone is enough to commit the offense of distracted driving.
However, Lee and her client successfully appealed that decision to the BC Supreme Court where the judge overturned the ruling that a distracted driving ticket can be issued on the basis of having a phone loose in the vehicle.
“This is a huge precedent for B.C., prior to this there was a conflicting decisions coming from traffic courts about whether or not a loose phone constituted the offense,” said Lee.
“There was a real lack of certainty on how the law was going to be applied on any given day based off of who was sitting in court or writing the ticket.”
According to Lee, the decision will have a large ripple effect on distracted driving tickets set to be disputed in B.C. traffic courts.
Cpl. Mike Halskov with RCMP Traffic Services said the decision provides clarity about use of a cellphone, but points out while the court has ruled it’s OK to have your phone loose in your vehicle and nearby while driving, resisting the urge to interact with it is critical.
A distracted driving ticket currently costs $368 for a first infraction, plus a one-time $210 insurance premium and four penalty points on the driving record.