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Having your cell phone in your lap is distracted driving, rules B.C. judge

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BC Supreme Court rules on cellphones in cars – May 27, 2020

Keeping your cellphone in your lap while driving amounts to distracted driving, according to a new ruling from the B.C. Supreme Court.

Zahir Rajani was ticketed on March 15, 2019, after a police officer in the Greater Victoria area saw him looking down while driving and stopped him. The officer approached the vehicle and spotted the man’s phone on his “right” lap, connected to a charging cord.

Rajani fought the ticket in provincial court, admitting that he’d been looking down, but said the phone had been wedged between his right thigh and the seat, and he wasn’t using it.

READ MORE: B.C. driver gets distracted driving ticket for switching song while cellphone was mounted to dash

The judge upheld the ticket, finding that having the phone “perched, if not on his lap, rather precariously beside his lap” amounted to breaking B.C.’s distracted driving laws.

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Rajani appealed, but a B.C. Supreme Court judge upheld that ruling, finding that having the phone anywhere in a driver’s lap amounts to “holding” it.

“Even on Mr. Rajani’s evidence, the phone was being supported in a way that permitted its use. Having the phone wedged between his thigh and the seat, facing up, is having it supported by a part of his body and it put the phone in a position in which it could be used. It was ‘held’ in a position in which it could be used,” wrote Justice Heather MacNaughton in her decision, released Monday.

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Judge rules on whether cellphone in lap is distracted driving – Feb 14, 2020

“To interpret ‘holding’ as being restricted to an action done with one’s hands is not in harmony with the scheme of the distracted driving provisions of the (Motor Vehicle Act). Such an interpretation would allow drivers to operate their vehicles with electronic devices in their laps, between their thighs, tucked under their arms or chins, or supported by other parts of their bodies.”

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Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee, who has fought many such cases, said the ruling is significant because it supersedes another recent ruling which found holding a phone in one’s lap does not constitute distracted driving.

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

She said it is yet another example of how the law is “incredibly confusing.”

“Does this mean I can’t have my phone in my pocket? Does this mean I can’t have my phone tucked into my bra?” she told Global News.

Lee said the latest ruling could still be challenged, arguing that it doesn’t really address whether having the phone in a person’s lap amounts to distraction.

“Rather than adding clarity to what you can do, it’s created more confusion about what’s allowed,” she said, “despite the fact that it’s answered, at least for now, one question about what’s not allowed.”

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