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Listening to podcast while driving with your phone beside you not distracted driving, judge rules

Campbell River man appeals ticket, saying he was not touching the phone while podcast played

A Campbell River man successfully appealed a distracted driving ticket after the judge ruled that hands-free listening to a podcast with your phone beside you does not constitute a prohibited use of a cellphone as defined by the Motor Vehicle Act.

“None of those prohibited forms of ‘use’ is engaged by passively listening to an audio broadcast that is initiated through a cellphone before a driver enters their vehicle,” Justice Peter G. Voith said in his reasons for Judgment dated Jan. 6 in Campbell River.

Ryan Michael Bleau disputed a ticket for driving while using a phone but lost his case on Feb. 25, 2020. He was issued a ticket for using an electronic device while driving contrary to s. 214.2 of the Motor Vehicle Act. Bleau was alone in his car and was driving to work and did not touch or otherwise interact with his phone at any point while driving. The phone was, however, playing a podcast through the speakers of the sound system of his truck, linked wirelessly by way of a Bluetooth connection.

“At all material times the phone was located in the cup holder of the centre console between the driver and passenger seats,” Justice Voith said. “The phone was placed loosely in the cup holder, held in place by only the rubber grommet or seal of the cup holder. It was not securely fixed to the vehicle by any magnetic or physical implement, and the appellant accepted that nothing adhered the phone to the cup holder.”

The Judicial Justice, in the original Feb. 25, 2020 conviction, concluded that the appellant had used an electronic device to play a podcast through his car stereo without the phone being firmly affixed to the vehicle and that that conduct constituted a “technical” violation of s. 214.2 of the Act.

But the appeal court judge Voith, decided that Bleau did not engage in a “use” of the phone that is prohibited under the Act or under the Use of Electronic Devices While Driving Regulation.

“The fact that his phone, through which a podcast was playing, was not secured in his vehicle or on his person is not a form of ‘use’ or a prohibited activity under the Act or Regulation,” Justice Voith said.

Bleau drove into the parking lot at his workplace when he was pulled over by a police officer who said he saw Bleau’s right hand holding his phone to his ear as he drove down the road. Bleau denied that was the case and filed evidence, in the form of a phone bill, that shows there is no chargeable entry pertaining to the time prior to when the officer issued the ticket.

The judge in the original case indicated that he had no reason to disbelieve either officer or the appellant and that he was unable to resolve the inconsistency.

The appellant testified, and this evidence was not contested, that when he first started his vehicle the radio came on automatically. Shortly thereafter, perhaps “30 seconds to a minute later,” his Bluetooth “automatically kicked in as it is set up to do” and he thereafter listened to a podcast until he arrived at his workplace.

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