If you’re wearing earbuds but your phone is dead, is it still distracted driving? B.C. court says yes

A Surrey, B.C., driver who was caught wearing in-ear headphones has been found guilty of distracted driving, even though the earbuds were connected to a dead iPhone.

Patrick Henry Grzelak was coming home after a long day of work on Oct. 12, 2018, when police officers spotted him in the northbound lanes of 152 Street, according to a provincial court judgment.

His iPhone was in the centre cubby hole on his dashboard, with the earbuds plugged in. The battery was dead.

The phone wasn’t in his hands or his lap, it wasn’t transmitting music or a video, and he wasn’t using it to talk to someone or navigate. Nonetheless, Judicial Justice Brent Adair found that Grzelak was legally “using” the phone.

“In my view, by plugging the earbud wire into the iPhone, the defendant had enlarged the device, such that it included not only the iPhone (proper) but also attached speaker or earbuds,” Adair wrote in Monday’s judgment.

“Since the earbuds were part of the electronic device and since the earbuds were in the defendant’s ears, it necessarily follows that the defendant was holding the device (or part of the device) in a position in which it could be used, i.e. his ears.”

According to the B.C. RCMP’s traffic services, it’s OK to drive with one earbud in, but wearing two can result in a $368 fine.

On the question of the battery, Adair said he relied on a 2015 precedent set in provincial court, which says that holding an electronic device in a position where it could be used constitutes an offence, even if it’s temporarily not working.

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