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Police are sending incorrect messaging of law, lawyer says

On Thursday (March. 9), Surrey RCMP and Police were looking for distracted drivers
A Surrey Police officer talking to a driver he pulled over during “Operation Hang Up” at 152 Street and Highway 10 on March 9, 2023. (Photo: Anna Burns)

A Vancouver defence lawyer is calling out the Surrey RCMP for incorrect messaging around distracted driving law.

Kyla Lee told the Now-Leader on Tuesday (March 14) part of the problem is ICBC and police are sending different messages about what’s legal and what isn’t.

“Nobody is trained or informed of the law, nobody’s actually clearing their comms through a lawyer who’s familiar with it,” said Lee, a criminal defence and impaired driving lawyer with expertise in defending distracted cases in court.

“The public messaging is incorrect. No wonder the public’s confused.”

On Thursday (March. 9), the Surrey RCMP and the Surrey Police Service joined forces with ICBC for “Operation Hang Up.” The campaign aims to remind drivers to leave their phones alone while driving.

The Surrey RCMP and Surrey Police Service were at Highway 10 and 152 Street looking for drivers on their phones.

During the campaign event, Sgt. Jason Barrett with Surrey RCMP’s traffic enforcement unit told media it is considered distracted driving for drivers to have their phone loose on the passenger seat.

“Under the motor vehicle act and regulations, it has to be affixed to your vehicle so it cannot move around because that also is a distraction,” Sgt. Barrett said.

Lee said this is not the case.

In 2019, Lee took a case to the B.C. Supreme Court where the judge ruled it is not illegal to have your phone loose on your passenger seat or in the cup holder. Lee told the Now-Leader on Tuesday (March. 14) what it comes down to, is whether or not you are actively using your phone.

Lee added that a lot of confusion stems from the fact the laws need to be updated to “keep in step with current technology.”

“There is no logic behind the law based on how we use our phones now,” said Lee.

For instance, she said it is currently prohibited under the law to dictate a text message.

And while Sgt. Barrett was correct when he said drivers are allowed to activate their phones with a single touch, Lee said the single touch is only allowed to answer calls. It does not allow for changing a song or changing your GPS.

It does not matter what type of phone mount you are using, Lee said, as long as it is securely mounted to your vehicle and is not at risk of falling. Also, it must not block your field of view or gear shift. Because of that a window mount is not allowed, as it obstructs your view.

Lee also offered recommendations for if you do get pulled over for suspected distracted driving.

“You don’t want to do anything that would escalate the situation,” said Lee. “So just take the ticket, fight it in court.”

It does not cost money to fight it in court.

A ticket for distracted driving is $368 plus four penalty points to your driving record.

Joanne Bergman, the road safety coordinator for ICBC, said on average about 77 people die every year in B.C. due to distracted driving.

According to ICBC, distracted driving is the second leading cause of car crashes in the province.

“It’s not acceptable,” Bergman said. “We’re hoping that today by giving some more education and enforcement to remind drivers about putting away their phones that it goes a long way,” Bergman said.

The distracted driving law applies when your vehicle is stopped at a red light or slowed in traffic.

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Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I started with Black Press Media in the fall of 2022 as a multimedia journalist after finishing my practicum at the Surrey Now-Leader.
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