Legal Insights / Civil Litigation / Distracted Driving: the dos and don’ts (really just don’ts)

Distracted Driving: the dos and don’ts (really just don’ts)

Jun 29 2022
dash cam in car

Tempted to text and drive? What about program your GPS or put on make-up?

Distracted driving is dangerous. It makes it 5 times more likely that you will get into a car accident. It is also responsible for more than one quartre (27%) of all car crash fatalities in BC. As we enter road trip season, RDM wants to do our part to keep you safe and our community safe by providing information on distracted driving, and in particular cell phone usage.

What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving includes anything that takes your attention off the road.

Section 144 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act states that all drivers have a responsibility to exercise “due care and attention” to be safe on the road. This can be used for many different types of infractions, like having a heated argument with a passenger, searching for a radio station or picking fries up off the ground. Having passengers, listening to music and eating are all fine but only if completed in a safe manner. This typically means being able to maintain (at least) one full hand on the steering wheel and certainly the attention of your mind.

For example, a driver who was using her hand with a bowl to steer while operating chopsticks in the other hand could not be said to be eating in a manner where she had due care and attention on the road (R v Jackson, 2019).

The most common source of distracted driving is use of phones and other electronic devices.

What qualifies as “using” my phone?

Section 214.2 of the Motor Vehicle Act states that “a person must not use an electronic device while driving or operating a motor vehicle”. “Use” is defined to include:

  • holding the device in a position in which it may be used;
  • operating one or more of the device’s functions;
  • communicating orally by means of the device with another person or another device;
  • watching the screen of the device;
  • sending or receiving text messages, emails or other communication on the device.

In addition to the Motor Vehicle Act, BC courts have interpreted “use” of an electronic device to include:

This list continues to grow and it is important to note that there is no distinction for being stopped in traffic or at a red light. If pulled over and parked off the roadway or lawfully in a manner not impeding traffic, you may use your electronic device freely. If unsure whether a specific action is prohibited, it is best to err on the side of caution and assume it is.

The only exceptions to cell phone use while driving is (1) there is an emergency and you are using it to contact the police, fire department or ambulance service or (2) when it is used in a hands-free manner.

What qualifies as “hands-free”?

Hands-free requires all of the following:

  • the phone is fixed securely to the vehicle in a manner that does not obstruct the driver’s view of the road, any of the mirrors or in any way that interferes with the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle;
  • the phone only requires one touch or voice activation to initiate, accept or end the call; and
  • if an earpiece is required to use the phone hands-free, only one earpiece may be worn.

The hands-free exception does not apply to new drivers, meaning if you currently have an “L” or “N” license. For new drivers, all cell phone use is completely prohibited.

Penalties for distracted driving

Apart from life-altering injuries, death and other possible consequences from an accident, a violation of the Motor Vehicle Act is a criminal offence subject to various possible punishments. The most common penalty is a fine of $368 plus 4 penalty points. Additional fines are owed by drivers who receive 4 or more points in a twelve-month period.

In addition to the above, drivers who have more than one distracted driving ticket in a three-year period will also pay a Driver Risk Premium and could see fines rise to as much as $2,000. More information on penalties and fines can be found on ICBC’s website by clicking here.

Drive on

Thank you for taking the time to look into distracted driving. Let’s all do our part to keep each other safe this summer as we enjoy driving around our beautiful province and surroundings.

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