B.C.’s public safety minister says the province’s distracted driving laws are “clear” that keeping a phone close in your cup holder is not OK.
Two B.C. drivers have been hit with fines within a month over the issue, after police officers in Vancouver and Saanich ruled the placement of the phones violated the Motor Vehicle Act.
Despite one of those tickets being cancelled soon after it was issued, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the law is on the officers’ side in both cases.
“The law is clear, the cellphone is supposed to be mounted and, you know, it’s not accessible,” he said Wednesday. “The police do have some discretion, and obviously, if people feel they’ve been ticketed unfairly, they have the ability to fight that in court.”
Josh Delgado was given his ticket on Sept. 23 in Saanich while he says he was stopped at a red light.
Delgado told Global News the phone was face down, plugged into a USB charger and connected to his work van’s stereo via Bluetooth as his employer requires — but the officer issued the $368 fine anyways.
Delgado said he was particularly frustrated because the phone was hooked up properly through the Bluetooth system, so any calls or texts would come through the vehicle’s speakers.
A spokesperson for Saanich police said the department had reviewed the ticket, but wouldn’t be cancelling it. Delgado says he plans to fight the fine.
Delgado shared his story on social media the same day Vancouver police were forced to apologize to a Richmond senior who was given a distracted driving ticket for having her phone in a cup holder, plugged into a charger.
Police cancelled the ticket, but would not comment further on the issue.
Laws too confusing?
The story of Randi Kramer’s ticket sparked outrage among critics who say B.C.’s distracted driving laws are too confusing and open to interpretation.
Under the Motor Vehicle Act, a person is allowed to use a phone while driving as long as it’s configured for hands-free use.
The device can be used for hands-free phone calls and audio playing if it is “securely fixed to the vehicle or worn securely on the person’s body, and is within easy reach of the driver’s seat,” according to a handout from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
But recent rulings from B.C. Supreme Court have called into question whether police can issue fines to drivers who have phones loose in their vehicle, whether it’s in a cup holder, the centre console or on the passenger seat.
In March, a judge struck down a fine against a Vancouver man who was caught by police with his phone wedged in the cushion of his passenger seat — technically within sight, and technically unsecured.
Crown and defence ultimately agreed, however, that the “mere presence of a cell phone within sight of a driver is not enough to secure a conviction.”
The judge’s decision noted, “The appellant emphasizes that since the officer never saw touch the device in any way, there was no ‘further accompanying act,’ and so cannot be found to have been ‘using’ his cell phone.”
Farnworth did not say whether the cup holder issue would influence any amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act, which he defended in its crackdown on distracted driving.
“From what I’ve seen, the vast majority of cases most of the time are, in fact, people who are using their cellphones,” he said.
“As we know, a significant amount of accidents are caused by distracted driving, and that’s why measures have been brought in — not just here in B.C., but right across the country — to deal with that.”
With files from Simon Little, Sarah MacDonald and Emily Lazatin
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