Is it considered distracted driving to have your phone playing audio while resting in the cup holder of your vehicle?
Not according to the B.C. Supreme Court, which threw out a ticket this week issued to a Campbell River man who was listening to a podcast while driving his truck in 2018.
Ryan Bleau had his phone connected to his vehicle’s sound system via Bluetooth, and wasn’t interacting with it at the time — but the officer who pulled him over alleged he’d been holding it to his head.
“I was actually playing a Joe Rogan podcast,” he said.
“I ended up disputing the ticket, went to court, at the the hearing I was able to provide some dashcam footage and some cellphone records.”
Even with that information, the provincial court judge ruled the phone still should have been affixed to the vehicle under the province’s distracted driving laws.
Bleau appealed the ruling to the B.C. Supreme Court, where representing himself, he was able to convince the higher court judge he wasn’t “using” the phone, as prohibited by law.
“The fact that his phone, through which a podcast was playing, was not secured in his vehicle or on his person is not a form of ‘use’ or a prohibited activity under the Act or Regulation,” wrote Justice Peter Voith in his decision.
“None of those prohibited forms of “use” is engaged by passively listening to an audio broadcast that is initiated through a cellphone, before a driver enters their vehicle.”
Vancouver lawyer Sarah Leamon said there remains a great deal of uncertainty around the province’s distracted driving laws, which are still catching up to the technology.
“Particularly when it comes to the use of an electronic device while driving, or distracted driving, there’s a great deal of officer discretion at the roadside in handing these kinds of tickets out, so inevitably we are going to see these tickets challenged,” she told Global News.
Drivers may still wish to be wary about how they keep their phones in the vehicle, as the justice reaffirmed an earlier ruling noting that “holding the device in a position in which it may be used” still counts as a violation of the law.
But Bleau is hopeful his case will at least help clarify the rules when it comes to people who, like him, have passively activated their devices to listen to music or podcasts.
“Hopefully moving forward, this is something people in other situations (or) lawyers representing their clients can use.”
As for his success representing himself in fighting the ticket, Bleau said it’s something that anyone with a high-school education and enough time to research can do.
“Just Google, man,” he said. “That’s it.”
— With files from Paul Johnson