charging a phone in a car

Charging a phone in a car is no longer distracted driving

A recent court ruling provides clarity on two huge distracted driving issues. Until now, both charging a phone in a car, and having a phone on your lap while driving, were enough to land you a distracted driving ticket.

Now, following a BC Provincial Court decision, it seems this is no longer the case.

Charging a phone in a car: previous rules

As we have explored in previous blogs about use of an electronic device while driving cases, the definition of “use” is very broad.

In this case, a court upheld some poor driver’s ticket for distracted driving because he plugged in his phone to charge while waiting at a stoplight. The fact the screen was facing away from him and cell phone records showed he had not made any calls did not matter. The Court interpreted charging to be one of the phone’s functions and, therefore, it constituted use.

It seems as if common sense has prevailed for once.

In the past, police ticketed drivers for having loose phones within sight of the driver, such as in a cupholder or on their laps.

What does the law say?

Section 214.1 of the Motor Vehicle Act’s definition of use of an electronic device while driving includes: “holding the device in a position in which it may be used”; and “operating one or more of the device’s functions”. Courts previously interpreted this to mean any handling of the device or use of any of its functions.

In British Columbia, you are permitted to have an electronic device within sight of the driver if it is securely fixed. This meant police issued tickets whenever a phone was not securely fixed, such as in a cupholder.

Common sense

In this most recent case, Meghan Wylie was seen driving with her phone plugged in and sitting on her lap. The screen was not illuminated and she was not touching the device.

A police officer gave her a ticket arguing that having a phone charging on her lap constituted use.

The judicial justice did not see it this way, saying: “In my view, on its ordinary meaning, charging a cell phone is not operating one of its functions. That is more than a subtle difference.”

On the second issue, whether having a phone on your lap means holding your phone, the Court found in the driver’s favour.  

The phone’s screen was not illuminated and there was no evidence it was switched on. The judicial justice said the definition of “hold” was to grasp with one’s hand(s). He said: “I conclude Ms. Wylie was neither holding the device nor operating one of the device’s functions.”

What does this mean?

This ruling is potentially good news if you received a distracted driving ticket. It means a new defence is potentially available to you. It seems as if common sense has prevailed for once. If a phone is charging and is not otherwise being used, how can that be a distracting event?

If you have received a ticket charging a phone in a car or simply having it on your lap, you should challenge it. We’re the BC Driving Lawyers and we can help get your ticket overturned. Call us, free, on 604-608-1200.

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