The Vancouver Police Department has sparked controversy online by posting about a driver who had his iPad and iPhone mounted to his steering wheel using string. A clever trick to get around the distracted driving laws, but one that the police officer who pulled him over frowned upon. Since they posted the tweet and photographed that revealed the funny details of this traffic stop, a huge debate has erupted online over what penalty this driver should have faced.
The police let him go with an $81 ticket for not producing a license, and a warning about the cell phone mounting system.
Here are my thoughts on whether this is actually an offence.
The Motor Vehicle Act requires that an electronic device be securely mounted to the vehicle or the driver’s person, and operated in hands-free mode with one-touch answering. Technically, the system employed by this driver cooperates with those requirements. The electronic devices are mounted – assuming the string system was secure – and by virtue of the “Hey Siri” feature on the devices they are capable of being used entirely hands free.
While this driver is not complying with the spirit of the law, he is following the letter of the law regarding the use of handheld electronic devices while driving.
Plenty of drivers have come up with crafty ways to avoid the cell phone ban while still complying with the law. There have been reports of drivers who have had their cell phones taped to their heads or drivers that I have seen in traffic court who are alleged to have tucked their cell phones into a hijab or other religious head covering. In fact, one such driver demonstrated for me how securely the phone was affixed to her head once it was tucked in there.
After that demonstration, the officer withdrew the charge.
So the outrage online appears to be misplaced.
While this driver was certainly doing something that we all can agree is distracting and, frankly, pretty silly, he wasn’t violating any of the electronic device regulations. But is the outrage entirely unwarranted? The answer to that is no.
While there was no violation of Section 214.2 of the Motor Vehicle Act in this instance, there were violations of other sections. For example, Section 195(1)(a), which states that a person must not operate a motor vehicle if the control over the driving mechanism is obstructed. Because the driving mechanism includes the whole of the steering wheel, the control was clearly obstructed in this case. Only about 2/3 of the steering wheel was accessible to the driver.
A conviction under this section carries with it a fine and three penalty points.
Worse still is the obvious distraction caused by these devices. Driving without due care and attention is an offence under Section 144(1)(a) of the Motor Vehicle Act. As I explained in my blog post last week, this section can and does apply to cell phones that pose a distraction from driving regardless of whether there is a cell phone law in place. And the penalty for conviction on this offence is a $368 fine and six penalty points. It is actually worse than a penalty for the cell phone ticket.
The outrage we’ve been seeing online appears to flow from the fact that other drivers have been doing less absurd things in their driving and have been given cell phone tickets. But this driver was given nothing for the obvious violations of two serious sections of the Motor Vehicle Act. What gives?
Well, the answer lies in the fact that a police officer has individual discretion over whether to give out a ticket, or whether to educate the driver and move on. In this case the education worked: the driver removed the string/phone set up. But better than that the public has been educated, not just about cell phone use while driving but also about various other provisions of the act that cover clever behaviour designed to find a loophole to these offences.
And I’m sure the embarrassment that this particular driver has suffered at the hands of his friends, family, and colleagues has been enough to deter him from trying such clever tricks again.
At the end of the day, the Vancouver Police Department used this opportunity for education, enforcement, and promoting the public message about distracted driving. That is commendable. No outrage necessary.