New B.C. drivers can have electronic device in sight but not in use, says judge

New drivers can have an electronic device in plain sight, they just can't look at or speak into it, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled. This is not permitted at all.

New drivers can have an electronic device in plain sight, they just can't look at or speak into it, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled.

In a decision released this week, regulations that prohibit new drivers from using electronic devices while behind the wheel were clarified.

The issue arose in April 2018, when Hunter John Sangret was pulled over by a police officer in Burnaby who saw an electronic device mounted to the dashboard of his vehicle, according to court documents.

Sangret had an "N" driver's licence, which restricts drivers from using an electronic device while driving, even in hands-free mode.

As such, the officer ticketed Sangret for Driving Contrary to Restrictions.

Sangret was never seen holding, touching, or otherwise making use of the device. The screen remained dark throughout their interaction and he went on to dispute the ticket in provincial court on that basis.

At trial, the Judicial Justice found the appellant guilty of Driving Contrary to Restrictions, because driving with a device in plain sight constituted use of that device in the Motor Vehicle Act.

Sangret appealed his conviction, saying it was an unreasonable verdict because there was no evidence that he had used the device in any way.

At the hearing, the Crown conceded the appeal, agreeing that a verdict of acquittal should be substituted for the conviction because the conviction was not supported by the evidence and the conviction was set aside.

At the end of the hearing, the parties requested that the judge clarify the meaning of use.

In her reasons for judgment, Madam Justice Jeanne E. Watchuk broke down the word "use" 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 through the device with another person or another device and watching the screen of an electronic device.

Watchuk said that "a device in plain view is more likely to tempt a driver to distraction than one that has been safely stowed away in a pocket or a glove compartment," but driving with it in view is not illegal.

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