Another court dived into the murky waters that are B.C.’s distracted driving laws. This time it was the B.C. Supreme Court which ruled having your phone on or near your lap constitutes distracted driving.
It comes only a few months after a B.C. provincial court decision determined that having a phone resting on or near your lap while driving was not against the law.
This latest Supreme Court ruling contradicts the previous decision, establishing that it is, in fact, against the law.
Is having a phone on or near your lap distracted driving?
What constitutes distracted driving has been interpreted many different ways, thanks in part to the ambiguous wording of the legislation in B.C. Section 214.1 of the Motor Vehicle Act defines “use” as:
(a) holding the device in a position in which it may be used;
(b) operating one or more of the device’s functions;
(c) communicating orally by means of the device with another person or another device;
(d) taking another action that is set out in the regulations by means of, with or in relation to an electronic device.
The issue at the heart of cases like these is what exactly “holding” means.
Is having a phone on your lap “holding”?
According to this provincial court decision from February this year, having a phone on your lap is not the same as holding. The defendant as charged after an officer saw her with her driving with her phone plugged and sitting on her lap. The screen was not illuminated and she was not touching the device.
The judicial justice stated: “Resting a device on the lap simply as a resting place, as opposed to the ability to grasp it is not a meaning of hold in its grammatical and ordinary sense.” The distracted driving ticket was dismissed.
Supreme Court verdict
In the above the B.C. Supreme Court verdict, Zahir Rajani appealed against his conviction for use of an electronic device while driving on similar grounds. A police officer testified that he saw Mr. Rajani looking down at his lap while driving. On closer inspection he said he had a cell phone on his lap with the screen facing up. The screen was not illuminated.
Mr. Rajani said the phone was wedged between his right thigh and the chair.
The Supreme Court judge ruled that even if it was wedged between his thigh and the chair, the phone was being supported in a way in which it could be used.
The judge said: “The fact that Mr. Rajani’s leg placement would have impacted the phone’s position supports a conclusion that it was being “held” for the purposes of this provision.”
I know what you’re thinking. You have to use your hand to hold something. Not according to the judge who said:
“To interpret “holding” as being restricted to an action done with one’s hands is is not in harmony with the scheme of the distracted driving provisions of the MVA. 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.”
So there you have it. You can hold a phone with your lap. At least until the next distracted driving decision.