Charging cell phone in car not same as using electronic device: B.C. court ruling

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      A B.C. provincial court has acquitted a woman of the charge of using her cell phone inside her car.

      The case revolved around the meaning of using an electronic device while driving, which is prohibited under the Motor Vehicle Act.

      Meghan Sarah Wesley Wylie was accused of violating the law when a cell phone being charged inside her car was seen on her lap.

      A Cst. Christians of the Capital Regional District Integrated Road Safety Unit in Esquimalt submitted that Wylie is guilty on two grounds.

      One is that charging a cell phone is a function of the phone.

      Two, having a phone on the driver’s lap is equivalent to holding the device.

      In his reasons for judgment, Hunter Gordon, a judicial justice, noted that the screen was the phone was not illuminated and the driver was not holding the device with her hands.

      “There is no evidence the device was turned on,” according to Gordon.

      Also, “there was no action on the part of Ms. Wylie to suggest it was turned on”.

      Based on evidence, the phone was “plugged in to the vehicle and being charged and no more”.

      According to Gordon, “on its ordinary meaning, charging a cell phone is not operating one of its functions”.

      Gordon also noted that in the context of the law, “a function of an electronic device is such things as phoning, texting, apps, games, music or maps”.

      “Those things are ‘operated’,” Gordon wrote. “Plugging a device in to recharge a battery is not in my view the ordinary and grammatical meaning of the operation of a function.”

      Gordon next dealt with Cst. Christians’ claim that Wylie was holding the device because it was her lap.

      Gordon noted that the ordinary meaning of ‘hold’ is to take or keep something in one’s hand or arms.

      A related word is ‘grasp’, which means to use a hand to hold something.

      Gordon noted that with the exception of television, “all of the things listed in the definition of ‘electronic device’ in the [Motor Vehicle Act] Act and the Use of Electronic Devices While Driving Regulation are hand-held devices”.

      “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,” Gordon wrote.

      Wylie testified that she had plugged her cell phone into the charging outlet of her car before she left on her journey a few minutes before she was checked by the constable.