New driver ticketed for having phone in plain sight wins B.C. Supreme Court appeal

B.C. man wins cell phone legal battle
WATCH: B.C. man wins cell phone legal battle

After years of mixed messaging from police and the courts, a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling has provided some clarity on distracted driving rules.

The ruling stems from a 2018 case in which a new driver was ticketed for distracted driving by a Burnaby RCMP officer who saw the driver’s phone mounted inside the vehicle.

Hunter John Sangret had a Class 7 or ‘N’ licence, meaning he was prohibited from using an electronic device while driving.

WATCH: (Aired March 20, 2019) B.C. judge’s ruling could result in hundreds of distracted driving ticket appeals

B.C. judge’s ruling could result in hundreds of distracted driving ticket appeals
B.C. judge’s ruling could result in hundreds of distracted driving ticket appeals

The police officer saw him driving alone with a phone mounted to his dashboard. He didn’t touch, hold or otherwise use the phone, and the screen was dark while the officer spoke with him.

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Even so, he was issued a ticket for distracted driving.

Sangret fought the ticket in provincial court and lost when the judge ruled that “driving with a device in plain sight constituted use of that device,” the ruling said.

On appeal, both sides in the case asked for a ruling on the meaning of the word “use.” Based on that definition, Sangret was acquitted.

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Justice Jeanne Watchuk ruled the “mere presence of the device within sight… was not sufficient to constitute ‘use’ of the device.”

In her judgment, Justice Watchuk defined “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 through the device with another person or another device.
* Watching the screen of an electronic device

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B.C. distracted driving rules have faced other court challenges.

Earlier this year a B.C. Supreme Court judge overturned a conviction for a driver who argued having a phone in plain sight doesn’t count as distracted driving.

The driver, identified as Philip Partridge in court documents, was charged with using an electronic device in Vancouver in the summer of 2018 after an officer spotted a cellphone wedged in the cushion of his passenger seat — technically within sight, and technically unsecured.

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At that time, lawyer Paul Doroshenko said that ruling could open the door for others to appeal their distracted driving convictions on similar grounds.

READ MORE: Picking up your cell phone while driving OK during an emergency, says Saanich police

In October, Vancouver police apologized and cancelled a ticket given to a Richmond senior who was slapped with a $368 distracted driving fine for having her cellphone in her cup holder.

Randi Kramer, who is in her 70s, was pulled over and issued a fine by an officer, who said the phone was not allowed to be visible.

She said both of her hands were on the steering wheel, and she wasn’t looking at her phone when she was pulled over.

— With files from Sean Boynton, Sarah MacDonald and Emily Lazatin