Judge: ‘Hands free’ means no hands. Period.

the Yukon flagWedging a cell phone between your shoulder and ear qualifies as hands-free driving — at least in the eyes of the Yukon courts.

The Canadian territory’s distracted driving law is simply too mushy, a judge ruled.

Update: An appeal court judge sided with the government in early May, saying that “hands free” means not holding a phone. The driver received one day’s probation. /update

The Marsh Lake man fought his distracted driving ticket and won in January, saying that he was using the smartphone’s speaker with both hands on the wheel.

A Yukon Courts judge agreed with the low-fi approach to hands-free and dismissed the ticket Jan. 13. The judge said the government should clarify the territorial law and pointed to more specific legal wording used in British Columbia and Ontario. The judge added that there was no indication Ian Pumphrey was driving in a distracted manner before he was issued the RCMP ticket.

The Yukon Department of Justice expressed its concern and said it was reviewing the ruling.

The law permits users to talk on cell phones “if an electronic device is configured and equipped to allow hands-free use” and is “used in that manner.”

The state of Alaska, about 500 miles to the west, had to rewrite its distracted driving laws in 2012 ago due to a similar court ruling. The ambiguous wording of Alaska’s 2008 prohibition on texting & driving came back to haunt legislators when a judge ruled that the state needed to be more precise with the distracted driving law. The magistrate noted correctly that its wording never actually refers to “text messaging.”

In Nova Scotia, a high court judge last month upheld the conviction of a motorist convicted of distracted driving for the act of holding his mobile phone. The case hinged on the definition of the word “use” in the law. A lower court threw out the ticket because the driver was not texting or talking, but merely checking an incoming message. The justice cited the “plain meaning of the word use” as it applied in the Motor Vehicle Act.

Both the Yukon judge and defendant said they hoped the ruling would not encourage others to drive distracted, CBC News reported.

The Yukon Territory’s ban on drivers’ use of handheld cell phones and “similar electronic devices” went into effect April 1, 2011. Fines up to $250.


  1. Al Cinamon says:

    There’s nothing ambiguous about it. State laws allow you to talk on a phone, just don’t hold it your hand. It makes sens if you look at it from a fiscal point of view (which is what politicians do). Holding a phone in plain sight allows cops to write tickets (revenue). Talking a hands-free phone encourages distracted driving which leads to crashes (revenue). If you want to be safe, just remember “HANDS FREE IS NOT RISK FREE!”

Post a comment, join the conversation