Driving ban overturned for attempted 911 call in North Vancouver

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A North Vancouver RCMP officer prepares to issue a ticket during a distracted driving enforcement blitz in March 2018. A woman issued a three-month driving ban after she picked up her phone to dial 911 at a red light has had the ban overturned in court. photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

A woman who picked up her cellphone to call 911 while stopped at a red light in North Vancouver has had a three-month driving ban overturned by a B.C. Supreme Court justice.

Marika Skye Winthrope successfully argued that her 90-day driving ban should be overturned because she picked up the phone to dial 911, believing her mother was having a stroke.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nathan Smith ruled June 26 those circumstances hadn’t been weighed against the risk that Winthrope was a “dangerous driver who might put the safety of the public at risk” and ordered the driving ban revoked.

According to the judge’s written reasons for judgment, Winthrope was issued the most recent ticket for using an electronic device on May 24, 2017. Winthrope told the judge she was driving to work when she received a call from her mother’s mobile ManDown app. Winthrope wrote the call was from her intellectually disabled brother who was trying to tell her their mother was in medical distress. Winthrope told the judge her brother wasn’t capable of dialling 911 and communicating with emergency responders himself so after she calmed him down, she hung up. When she stopped at a red light at Marine Drive in North Vancouver, she picked up the phone again to call 911.

That’s when she was immediately pulled over by the North Vancouver RCMP.

Subsequently she confirmed that her mother had had a minor stroke.

Winthrope didn’t challenge her ticket earlier because she was told she had to pay the fine in order to renew her insurance.

But when she received a notice from the superintendent of motor vehicles that she was being handed a 90-day driving ban based on her “unsatisfactory driving record” she decided to fight that on the basis of extraordinary circumstances. She added taking away her licence for three months would create hardship for her family who rely on her to look after them and maintain her employment.

The law banning people from using cellphones while driving does provide exceptions for people calling police, fire or ambulance in an immediate emergency.

But the adjudicator for the superintendent of motor vehicles who first heard her case reasoned that if she had time to wait until she reached a red light to call, Winthrope also had time to pull off the road.

The judge, however, said the issue that needed to be weighed included whether Winthrope’s driving record – which included a previous ticket for speeding and for using a cellphone while driving as well as a previous one-month driving ban – was serious enough to warrant being considered a dangerous driver who might put the public at risk. Failing to do that made the decision “unreasonable,” he ruled.

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