To be, or not to be, hands free

A Yukon driver had his ticket for driving while using a cell phone thrown out this week, thanks to what the judge called a "vacuum" in the Yukon's regulations.

A Yukon driver had his ticket for driving while using a cell phone thrown out this week, thanks to what the judge called a “vacuum” in the Yukon’s regulations.

Ian Pumphrey was driving in Whitehorse in August when he got a call, pulled over, put his phone on speakerphone, wedged it between his ear and shoulder and then began driving again, according to territorial judge Donald Luther.

An RCMP officer saw him driving and gave him the ticket.

The Yukon government says it’s reviewing the decision.

The issue is what regulations the Yukon has – or more accurately doesn’t have – when it comes to hands-free driving.

The Yukon Motor Vehicle Act says you can’t use a cell phone or electronic device while driving except “if an electronic device is configured and equipped to allow hands-free use in a telephone function.”

That same section goes on to say – and this is key according to the judge – the rule is “subject to any conditions or requirements imposed by regulation.”

Luther said he went looking for Yukon regulations related to hands-free driving and couldn’t find any.

In Ontario regulations specifically say the hands-free phone needs to be “placed securely in or mounted to the motor vehicle so that it does not move while the vehicle is in motion,” the judge said. “And the driver can see it at a quick glance and easily reach it without adjusting his or her position.”

Similar regulations exist in B.C.

“Again, the motor vehicle drivers in the province of B.C., just like in Ontario, have guidance from their governments as to what is allowed and what is not allowed,” Luther said.

The judge is quick to point out he doesn’t think this case reflects the intent of the law in the Yukon. It’s his job as a judge “to interpret the laws in a sensible way. But it is not to fill in gaps that can easily be filled in by the legislature or by the cabinet,” he said.

Luther advised cabinet “to clarify this situation” in due course.

Cabinet spokesperson Elaine Schiman said, in an email, “the minister of justice and the Yukon government are concerned about the potential public safety implications of this decision. Currently, the Department of Justice is reviewing the ruling, to assist the government in determining how to respond to this judgment of the court.”

She did not respond to questions about who was involved in writing the Yukon law – which came into force in 2011 – or whether laws in other jurisdictions were reviewed.

It doesn’t look like it would be difficult to make changes, since that relevant part of the Motor Vehicle Act already references regulations.

If it were a matter of changing the law, that would have to be done while the legislature was in session. But regulation changes can be done by an order in council. That means cabinet recommends changes to the commissioner, who signs off on them.

Luther discouraged any Yukoner from using this case as an excuse to flout the law “because of the vacuum that the Yukon government has left.”

Pumphrey’s case was a unique one, he said. If he hadn’t pulled over to pick up the phone, he would be guilty. If he had been driving erratically he may also have been found guilty, the judge said.

Meanwhile, RCMP Cpl. Shawn Pollard, who runs traffic services in the Yukon, says the decision doesn’t change the way his team will do its job.

If he were in the situation tomorrow, Pollard said he would write the ticket and go back to court.

The intent in outlawing driving while on the phone had to do with preventing distracted driving, he said.

“I think it is a very dangerous practice.”

One lighter moment at Pumphrey’s hearing this week occurred when his cell phone rang in court.

“You’re not driving, so you can turn it off,” the judge said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate education advocates and volunteers help to sort and distribute Christmas hamper grocery boxes outside Elijah Smith Elementary School on Feb. 23. (Rebecca Bradford Andrew/Submitted)
First Nation Education Directorate begins Christmas hamper program

Pick-ups for hampers are scheduled at local schools

Cyrine Candido, cashier, right, wipes down the new plexi-glass dividers at Superstore on March 28, before it was commonplace for them to wear masks. The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program extended to 32 weeks

More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program

City of Whitehorse staff will report back to city council members in three months, detailing where efforts are with the city’s wildfire risk reduction strategy and action plan for 2021 to 2024. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Council adopts wildfire risk reduction plan

Staff will report on progress in three months


Wyatt’s World for Nov. 25, 2020

Ivan, centre, and Tennette Dechkoff, right, stop to chat with a friend on Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. Starting Dec. 1 masks will be mandatory in public spaces across the Yukon in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Masks mandatory in public places starting on Dec. 1

“The safe six has just got a plus one,” Silver said.

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Most Read