Yukon Supreme Court overturns ruling on ‘hands free’ driving

A Yukon Supreme Court Justice has ruled that you cannot drive while holding your cell phone in any way. It's likely the end of a five-month saga over what it means to drive "hands-free" in the Yukon.

A Yukon Supreme Court Justice has ruled that you cannot drive while holding your cell phone in any way.

It’s likely the end of a five-month saga over what it means to drive “hands-free” in the Yukon.

Ian Pumphrey originally took the Yukon government to territorial court in December after he was pulled over and given the $287 ticket.

Pumphrey told the officer he got a call on his cell while driving, pulled over, answered the call, put the phone on “hands-free” mode then pinned the phone between his shoulder and his ear.

Territorial court judge Donald Luther initially ruled he had reasonable doubt whether Pumphrey committed the crime because the Yukon didn’t have clear regulations in place to define hands-free.

Instead of fixing the regulations, the government decided to appeal the judge’s decision to the Yukon Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, Justice Leigh Gower ruled Pumphrey was in fact breaking the law when he drove that way.

“Hands-free” does not simply mean “without hands,” the judge said. It means not being held by the operator in any way.

“In my view, the correct interpretation of ‘hands-free use’ is more broad than simply use without hands, and contemplates that a device can be used only when it is not being held by the operator in any fashion,” Gower said.

“In my respectful view, this interpretation is more consistent with the purpose of the legislation.”

But Gower ruled Pumphrey, who represented himself during the entire process, did not have to pay the ticket. Instead, he received a suspended sentence and one day of probation.

Gower said he wanted to give Pumphrey an absolute discharge, but he didn’t have the authority under the act. The sentence he gave Pumphrey is the lowest possible.

“As a self-represented litigant and layperson, it is not surprising that some of Mr. Pumphrey’s arguments were misguided,” the judge said. “However, many were not and he made a genuine good faith effort to defend himself both at the trial and as the respondent on this appeal.”

Gower’s decision is in line with what the Crown was seeking at the appeal. Pumphrey, on the other hand, argued that the appeal itself was ridiculous. He repeatedly questioned why the government would choose to appeal something like this rather than just fix the regulations.

He asked the judge to order the government to pay him for the work he did on this case. Gower denied that request.

Contact Ashley Joannou at


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