Almost every single one of us has either used a cell while driving or been angered by someone who was. It’s no secret that erratic driving and cell phone use go, pardon the pun, hand in hand.
On October 28th, 2008, Ontario Transportation Minister Jim Bradley announced proposed new legislation aimed at making it illegal to use handheld devices of any kind while driving, including cell phones, MP3 players, video game devices, and DVD players. The proposed Countering Distracted Driving and Promoting Green Transportation Act, 2008, will not be enforced by the Ontario Provincial Police until the bill is passed, expected to happen sometime in early 2009.
Talking and Driving
A ban on cellular phone and handheld device use in Ontario would limit our ability to multi-task in the car, but doesn’t rule out making phone calls with hands-free systems. 911 calls are also allowed, as are GPS devices properly positioned on the dashboard. While the proposed legislation doesn’t have any demerit points attached, drivers who put others at risk can be charged under existing careless driving laws and face fines of up to $1000, six points, a suspension, and possibly jail time.
As for the ‘Green Transportation’ aspect of the proposed Act, the focus is almost entirely on carpooling, and aims to remove political barriers to forming carpools, and allow more recognition of informal carpools operating in or out of the typical work week.
Only in Ontario?
The proposed legislation, albeit subject to much criticism, intends to bring Ontario into line with select other Provinces who have already adopted bans of their own. Critics have argued that the government is merely pandering to bias and general distaste that the public has for cell phone users, while other acts such as reading maps and putting on lipstick are not prohibited. This argument may be a thin one, however, as a quick glance at the state of driver cell phone legislation around the world shows that Canada is far behind every First World and most developing countries in implementing the ban. Denmark banned the practice in 1998, Japan in 1999, and by 2003, Brazil, Germany, France, Australia, Japan, Norway, Russia, Finland, South Korea and the UK, among others, had followed suit.
A recent Angus Reid poll shows that 68 per cent of Canadians are recurrent cell-phone users, yet only Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Newfoundland-Labrador have already implemented cell phone bans for drivers. The Manitoba Government announced recently that they intend to introduce similar legislation, and with Ontario following, the move should help bring Canada up to speed with the rest of the world. South of our borders, approximately half of US states have bans in place with New York and California leading the way, and several others, including Texas, facing Senate proposals now or in the near future.
The problem with cell phone driving appears to come not from the physical act of driving with one hand, but from the decreased attention and focus placed on the road ahead while chatting away. It is unclear whether studies have shown that drivers talking on hands-free devices are more attentive than regular cell phone users, but in any event the legislation appears to be a step towards safer roadways, in Ontario and hopefully the rest of Canada.