B.C. Supreme Court ruling sets strict standard for distracted driving

File: A photo of a person distracted while driving.
In a recent B.C. Supreme Court case, a North Vancouver man challenged a ticket he got for distracted driving. Global News

If there was any doubt about leaving your phone alone while driving, a decision by a B.C. Supreme Court justice has put it finally to rest.

Distracted-driving is one law British Columbians break on a massive scale.

In Burnaby during the month of March, police and community volunteers handed out 764 distracted-driving tickets and 28 warnings.

According to B.C.’s distracted-driving regulations, it is against the law to text, email, talk or otherwise hold an electronic device in your hand while operating a motor vehicle, including while being stopped at a red light.

WATCH MORE: Police crack down on distracted driving

But it would appear some drivers are still unaware of the regulations or unclear about how far they go.

In a recent B.C. Supreme Court case, a North Vancouver man challenged a ticket he got — not for talking on his phone — but for plugging it in while stopped at a red light.

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This week Supreme Court Justice Miriam Maisonville ruled the ticket was legal saying, “it’s the handling of the device, and the use, not whether the device was capable of transmitting or receiving, that is the issue before the court.”

Stephanie Skinner, a criminal defence lawyer, says she thinks the ruling was harsh but isn’t surprised. Skinner says about 30 per cent of her work these days is distracted driving cases and the B.C. law is meant to cast a very wide net.

“The legislation is crafted such that it’s designed now to catch virtually any kind of situation in which a device could be a distraction,” Skinner says.

READ MORE: Woman with 14 distracted driving tickets still driving, only has 12 demerit points

B.C. ended up with a tough law for a good reason — it kills people.

“Distracted driving is the second-leading cause of fatality and injury in motor-vehicle collisions in B.C,” said Cpl. Daniela Panesar of the Burnaby RCMP in March.

Distracted driving has always been around but since the advent of technology, the number of cases has increased significantly.

“Distraction has always been with us in one form or another but since the introduction of cell phones, in particular smart phones, it’s really exploded in terms of the problems its causing on our roads,” ICBC Road Safety program manager Mark Milner said.

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WATCH: People in the Lower Mainland are wondering how one driver, who received 14 distracted driving citations, still hasn’t had her licence taken away. Sam MacLeod, B.C.’s superintendent of motor vehicles, joins Global News to break down the situation.
Click to play video: 'What will it take for repeat distracted driver to lose her licence?'
What will it take for repeat distracted driver to lose her licence?

Since June 1, 2016, a first-time distracted driving ticket in B.C. will cost you $543 — a $368 fine and four demerit points of $175.

A second distracted-driving ticket within 12 months would cost $368. A third offence could cost a driver more than $3,000.

In addition, two or more tickets in a 12-month period means an automatic review of the person’s driving record and a possible driving suspension.

This week’s ruling is one of the strongest reminders that driving while distracted isn’t cheap.

~ with files from Paul Johnson 

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