by Cedric Hughes, Barrister & Solicitor with regular weekly contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.B.   

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What is “Cell Phone Use” in a Vehicle?

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When ‘distracted driving’ is caused by or involves an electronic device, specific language in the BC Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) renders such activity illegal.  All licensed drivers in BC must obey this law, a variation of which is now in force throughout North America.

In BC, the fine for first-time offenders is $368 and $175 for four penalty points for a total of $543; repeat offenders the same fine plus escalating penalty points.  One unclear aspect is what constitutes using a device.  Reportedly, police are ticketing for holding a cellphone in your lap, whether or not the cellphone is off or linked to the car by Bluetooth or has been unused.

Part 3.1 of the MVA “Use of Electronic Devices while Driving” contains six sections, 214.1 through 214.6.  The section that creates the prohibition against the use of electronic devices while driving is 214.2. To fully construct the text of 214.2 requires incorporating text from the definition section (214.1) and from regulations to the BC Motor Vehicle Act—specifically The Use of Electronic Devices While Driving Regulation— as follows:

214.2 (1) A person must not use an electronic device while driving or operating a motor vehicle on a highway.

"Use", in relation to an electronic device, means one or more of the following actions: (a) holding the device in a position in which it may be used; (b) operating one or more of the device's functions; (c) communicating orally by means of the device with another person or another device; (d) taking another action that is set out in the regulations by means of, with or in relation to an electronic device.

"Use" further defined in the regulations: A person who watches the screen of an electronic device uses the device for the purposes of paragraph (d) of the definition of "use" in section 214.1 of the Act.

"Electronic device" means (a) a hand-held cellular telephone or another hand-held electronic device that includes a telephone function, (b) a hand-held electronic device that is capable of transmitting or receiving electronic mail or other text-based messages, or (c) a prescribed class or type of electronic device;

"Electronic device" further defined in the regulations:(a) electronic devices that include a hands-free telephone function; (b) global positioning systems; (c) hand-held electronic devices, one of the purposes of which is to process or compute data; (d) hand-held audio players; (e) hand microphones; (f) televisions. (2) In subsection (1), "hand microphone" means a communication device consisting of a hand-held unit that (a) is both receiver and microphone, (b) is operated by a push and hold-to-talk function, and (c) allows for oral communication, but not for the transmission and receipt of oral communication at the same time.

214.2 (2) Without limiting subsection (1), a person must not communicate by means of an electronic device with another person or another device by electronic mail or other text-based message.


Clearly law enforcement is interpreting holding an ‘electronic device’ in your lap as holding the device in a position in which it may be used.  The best advice:  Store your cellphone off your person while you are driving.

Cedric Hughes

huges & company law corporation vancouver


As Seen In

abbotsford mission times

chilliwack times

richmond review

surrey leader

vancouver courier.com



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