Holding a Disabled Cellphone Still Counts as Distracted Driving in B.C. Rules Judge

Patrick Tannhauser received a distracted driving ticket in Victoria, B.C., back in August 2017. At the time, he fought his ticket citing how his cellphone was automatically disabled while driving with software and won in court.

But after the Crown’s repeated appeals, Tannhauser has lost his distracted driving fight, in a ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice, Robert Bauman on June 1, 2020.

In 2017, Tannhauser was driving on the Trans-Canada Highway near Victoria, when an officer standing on the side of an overpass spotted him holding a cellphone while driving. The officer called a second officer further down the road to stop Tannhauser and issue him a ticket.

Tannhauser did admit he was holding a cellphone, but said it was disabled with software that automatically turned on when motion is detected. It’s unclear what smartphone Tannhauser was using and what software was involved. But such a feature is part of Apple’s iOS software called Do Not Disturb While Driving, for example.

In May 2018, Tannhauser was acquitted during a trial. But in May 2019, the Crown was granted leave to appeal the decision.

“Mr. Tannhauser was observed by a police officer to be holding a smartphone at the top of the steering wheel in his slowly moving vehicle. Mr. Tannhauser testified that his phone was programmed with an application that immobilized the phone when in motion in a vehicle. He testified that the phone had been sitting on some papers on the passenger seat that he wished to look at and that he picked up the phone with his right hand, transferred it to his left hand and put it on the dashboard. Another officer further down the road from the first officer saw the phone on the dashboard,” reads a May 30, 2019 appeal ruling.

In the June 1, 2020, decision posted by Chief Justice Bauman, he said, “Does this provision prohibit holding a cellphone in such a position even when some, or all, of its immediate functions are disabled? I conclude it does,” referring to the section of the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act which disallows “holding [an electronic device] in a position in which it may be used”.

“In my view, holding an electronic device on top of a steering wheel, in clear view, is sufficient to constitute holding it in a position in which the device may be used. This view is supported by the ordinary meaning, context, and intention behind the statute,” added Bauman.

In the end the Chief Justice concluded he would “allow the appeal and order a new trial, if the Crown is of a mind to proceed at this time.”

Recently, another B.C. Supreme Court decision said having a cellphone in your lap also constitutes distracted driving.

A distracted driving violation ticket is $368 in B.C and comes with 4 penalty points on your driving record. First infractions result in a $252 ICBC Driver Penalty Point premium, so your first infraction will cost $620.

[via Global News]