Robert Barron column: Cell phone rules in cars are clear as mud

Woman not actively using her cell should not be guilty of distracted driving

I’m sure Randi Kramer is as confused as the rest of us as to what constitutes distracted driving when it comes to cell phones.

Kramer is the Vancouver woman in her 70s who received a $368 ticket for distracted driving by a member of the Vancouver police department.

Apparently, she was not actively using her cell at the time, but it was visible in her coffee cup holder where its battery was being charged.

RELATED: Police cancel $368 ticket given to B.C. senior for having cellphone in cupholder

Facing a backlash from the public over what appeared to be an arbitrary ticket, a Vancouver police spokesperson said there was a precedent for ticketing a person for “using an electronic device even if they are not touching it,” if it’s turned on and within the reach of a driver.

But within hours of that explanation, the ticket was cancelled and Kramer was issued an apology although I can’t find a satisfactory explanation as to why she was given the ticket in the first place, or exactly why it was rescinded, in any of the news reports that I’ve read.

I reached out to the RCMP’s ‘E’ Division Traffic Services for answers and Const. Mike Halskov was kind enough to send me guidelines as to what’s legal and not legal when it comes to cell phones and driving.

The information that he sent me stated that ‘E’ Division (I’m not sure why he refers only to E Division) does not support the issuance of violation tickets where the legislated definition of “use” is not met.

Halskov said in his email that under the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act, the term “use” is defined as holding the device in a position in which it may be used.

That is further defined as the user operating one or more of the device’s functions; communicating orally by means of the device with another person or another device; and “taking another action” that is set out in the regulations by means of, with or in relation to an electronic device (whatever that means).

But that bureaucratic answer still didn’t answer for me why Kramer was given the ticket, so I read some other articles on the subject and one contained a lawyer’s explanation that, according to the Motor Vehicle Act, the term “use” includes operating any of the features of the phone, and because one of the features of the phone is charging, that is sufficient to constitute use, even if there is no way the user can be distracted by it.

But, just to confuse matters further, two decisions by the BC Supreme Court have found that simply charging a phone, without an “associated act”, is not sufficient to constitute use.

RELATED: Phone in cupholder isn’t OK, B.C. public safety minister says

However, in a more recent decision out of a traffic court in B.C., the judge ruled that just having a phone tucked under your leg while in operation of a motor vehicle constitutes use, and it’s being suggested that may have led some police officers, like the one who ticketed Kramer, to broadly interpret the law, even though the accused in that case was actually holding the phone that was tucked under his leg.

It seems that the laws (which are relatively new it must be said) around using cell phones in vehicles are about as clear as mud.

The best bet is to shut the phone down and throw it in the trunk until you get to where you’re going.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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