Can I get a distracted driving ticket for having my phone in a cupholder?
A septuagenarian received a distracted driving ticket for having her cell phone on charge in her cupholder. The story was picked up by a number of news outlets and sparked a huge discussion online.
Police fined Randi Kramer $368 after spotting her plugged-in smartphone resting in her car’s cupholder. Her son Trevor posted pictures of her phone and the ticket on Twitter. He said his mother was not looking at or touching her phone at the time and she had never received a ticket in more than 50 years of driving.
Hey @IRPlawyer, what do you think of this? My mom is in her 70s, has never had a single ticket in 50+ years of driving in BC. Today, she got a $368 ticket for having her phone visible (plugged in while connected to Bluetooth for voice / SMS). She wasn’t looking at / touching it. pic.twitter.com/ofuTSOxzYi— Trevor Kramer Ⓥ (@tkhereandthere) September 30, 2019
He also tagged Kyla Lee, one of the BC Driving Lawyers and the Kramers retained Kyla to appeal the ticket. The Vancouver police, however, cancelled the ticket, before it could get to court, seemingly as a result of the public outcry.
So, what lessons can we learn from this story? Why was the ticket issued in the first place and what does the law say about having a phone in a cupholder?
Distracted driving ticket for phone in cupholder
We have previously looked at the offence of distracted driving, or rather use of an electronic device while driving to give it its official name. An explanation for Mrs. Kramer’s ticket arises from the definition of “use”.
Section 214.1 of the Motor Vehicle Act defines use as:
- holding the device in a position in which it may be used;
- operating one or more of the device’s functions;
- communicating orally by means of the device with another person or another device;
- taking another action that is set out in the regulations by means of, with or in relation to an electronic device.
As we have covered in past blogs, the term “use” when applied to a phone has been applied very loosely. Plugging a phone in while driving is technically distracted driving because charging is considered one of the phone’s functions.
Plugging in your phone
In another case, a driver received a ticket for plugging in his phone’s cable while waiting for a light to change at an intersection. Despite the fact the screen was facing away from him and cell phone records showed he was not calling anyone at the time, the ticket was upheld.
This driver received a ticket in similar circumstances to Mrs. Kramer. His phone was charging in his cupholder and even though he was not using it, his ticket was upheld.
If you want to ensure you won’t get a distracted driving ticket, the best thing to do is keep your device in the glove box or somewhere else out of sight and reach. If you want to still be able to use your phone for GPS and accept calls, make sure it is securely fixed (ie. in a dash-mounted holder) and within easy reach.
The ambiguous language of the MVA’s distracted driving provisions has inevitably led to inconsistencies in enforcement. Having a cell phone unsecured and within sight of a driver is often enough to secure a conviction. In another traffic ticket case involving Kyla Lee, however, a driver who ticketed for having his phone wedged in the passenger seat has his conviction overturned.
Despite this decision, having a phone in the cupholder may still be considered unsecured and within sight of a driver. It is Mrs. Kramer’s story will not deter police from issuing distracted driving tickets to people with their phones in cupholders in the near future.
Nevertheless, this story shows that it is worth challenging a ticket for using an electronic device while driving. You face a $368 ticket for a first offence, if not. On top of that, you will get four penalty points which means paying expensive insurance premiums.
We’re the BC Driving Lawyers and we are successful in challenging distracted driving tickets as well as all kinds of traffic violations in the province. Give us a call on 604-608-1200.