Wearing two earbud headphones connected to dead phone counts as distracted driving: judge
VANCOUVER -- A new court ruling on distracted driving laws says that drivers are not allowed to wear headphones in both ears even if they’re connected to a dead cell phone.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruling, published Oct. 6, upholds a lower court’s ruling that a man, Patrick Henry Grzelak, was rightfully convicted of distracted driving for using an electronic device while driving.
Vancouver criminal lawyer, Kyla Lee, said the decision adds some clarification to the province’s driving laws, but that it also exposes “the absurdity in the Motor Vehicle Act.”
“The takeaway from this (ruling) is that even if your phone is off and you're not using your earbuds for anything, if your earbuds are connected to the phone and in both of your ears, you're (considered to be) holding your phone with your ears, and therefore are committing distracted driving,” she said.
“It's a little bit silly, but it really comes down to whether or not the thing that you're wearing or the thing that you're using is connected to your device either physically or otherwise, like paired via Bluetooth,” Lee added.
The ruling explains that Grzelak was driving home from work and wearing wired earbud headphones that were connected to his iPhone, which was sitting in the “centre cubbyhole in the dashboard” of his car.
Grzelak had been using the earbuds “during a long day of telephone conference calls, and he had developed a habit of leaving them in his ears for the drive home to help block out the drone of the highway,” the ruling reads.
A lower court judge had ruled that this constituted “holding” a cell phone, a fact that the Supreme Court ruling upheld.
“Mr. Grzelak was holding the earbuds in his ears, and the earbuds were effectively part of the iPhone because they were connected to it by their wire,” the ruling reads.
The several-page ruling dives into the nitty gritty of the province’s distracted driving laws contained in the Motor Vehicle Act.
“It reads like a lot of gobbledygook because you have this decision that's looking at provisions of legislation that are so poorly drafted as to create utter and complete confusion for the public about what is and what isn't distracted driving, and to create confusion for judges in interpreting the law,” Lee said.
The ruling, she said, is an example of why the province should do a “complete overhaul of the distracted driving laws” in B.C. so that residents can easily understand what’s allowed, and what isn’t.
Had Grzelak been only wearing one ear bud, he wouldn’t have been fined, Lee said.
“The legislation does have an exemption for people who are wearing the earbuds in only one ear. So, if Mr. Grzelak … had had one of his earbuds out, then he would not been in violation of the law. That's how absurd this law is,” she said.
Lee said she thinks the reasoning behind this law is because a driver might not be able to hear what’s happening on the road around them if they’re wearing two earbuds.
However, she doesn’t think it makes sense because drivers are allowed to wear earplugs, and those who are deaf or hard of hearing are allowed to drive even though they might not hear approaching sirens like a hearing person.
“(The) logic really doesn't make a lot of sense when you consider that deaf people drive and are allowed to drive. People with hearing loss are allowed to drive, (and) people with hearing loss who wear hearing aids that are connected to and controlled by their cell phones … (can) drive,” she said.
“Potentially, based on the way the law is written, (those with hearing aids connected to their phone) are in violation of the law for using a device that allows them to hear,” Lee added.
Lee posted information about the ruling to her twitter account, and said that like in the past, when she posts new information about distracted driving laws in B.C., she got tons of questions from people trying to understand what is and what is not allowed.
Going forward, Lee said she would like to see candidates in the provincial election propose overhauls of the distracted driving laws.
“I'd like to see one of them say, ‘If we're elected, we're going to make this law clear,’ because I think the public deserves this, and yeah, it's not … a major issue, but it does affect people on a daily basis.”