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Tips for drivers: What counts as distracted driving?

RCMP recommend always keeping your phone mounted; starting GPS and playlists before driving
Brittney Taylor received a $368 distracted driving ticket for touching her phone to change a song while it was mounted in her car. (Photo courtesy Brittney Taylor)

The definition of what constitutes as distracted driving has changed in recent years, and RCMP officials say it’s important for drivers to stay up to date with the rules.

In March 2019, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that having a cellphone in the vicinity of a driver wasn’t against the law. The ruling came up after a driver in B.C. was given a $368 ticket for distracted driving for having her cellphone charging in her cup holder. Now, drivers are allowed to have their device charging while wedged in their seat or in their cupholder. Still, there’s many other ways to get a hefty ticket.

Here’s how to avoid getting a ticket of your own:

The RCMP say they recommend the following: use Bluetooth; use only one headphone/earbud — that’s all that’s allowed; pre-start your playlist or GPS before driving and don’t touch your phone while driving — including while at a red light or while stopped in traffic.

READ MORE: $578: that’s how much your first distracted driving ticket will cost with recent premium hikes

If a phone is mounted and you’re using Bluetooth, you can touch it once to answer and once to hang up, but aren’t allowed to do anything else that requires interaction with your device. The key is having your device phone-mounted and Bluetooth enabled — that it allows drivers to touch their phone once.

“I find it concerning that despite a media blitz that has spanned for the past 3.5 years, drivers still choose to ignore the facts and the fines and drive while distracted,” said Cpl. Jesse Foreman of the Oceanside RCMP in an email. “There is no message or conversation so important that you need to endanger yourself or others.”

The RCMP say that they look for drivers with their phones in their hands or at their ears and head movements going up and down with no or one hand on the wheel. At red lights, they take note when a driver doesn’t move when the light turns green. An officer has to witness an actual offence, though, these warning signs aren’t enough for a ticket.

In terms of what is at an officer’s discretion, the RCMP say it’s the same as any other violation. However, the discretion for cellphones is lower than for other infractions since distracted driving is the cause of so many accidents.

Here’s a few more tips on how to avoid a ticket for distracted driving:

- Make sure your device is securely fixed to your car if you’re going to be playing music off it or using GPS.

- Make sure your device doesn’t obstruct your view while driving.

- Make sure your music/audio is coming out of your car speakers.

- If you have a learner’s or a novice licence, you aren’t allowed any kind of device. Hands-free cellphones are off-limits until you have a full license.

- Don’t adjust your radio while driving, that counts.

- No eating, grooming or reading.

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