Drivers, get ready to put down those cellphones TheSpec.com - BreakingNews - Drivers, get ready to put down those cellphones
TORONTO — Get your hands off those cellphones, Ontario drivers — a new law that bans using hand-held devices to talk, email, or send text messages while behind the wheel was passed today.
The new rules, which won’t come into effect until at least the fall, include a fine of up to $500 as the province joins other jurisdictions in cracking down on drivers using the devices.
“What we’re trying to do is to avoid distractions while people are driving — those distractions being caused, in this case, by electronic devices that are hand-held,” said Transportation Minister Jim Bradley, adding he has no plans to ban eating or drinking coffee in cars.
The law doesn’t affect the use of hands-free devices such as Bluetooths or using cellphones for 911 calls, but it does ban portable video games, MP3 players and DVD players.
Global positioning systems will be allowed, as long as they’re properly secured to the dashboard.
There are no demerit points attached to the bill, but drivers who place others at risk by using one of the banned devices can also be charged under existing careless driving laws.
The law exempts firefighters, police and paramedics, but several other groups have also asked for a pass.
The Transportation Ministry is considering additional exemptions for devices used to dispatch, track and monitor commercial drivers, but said more changes are unlikely.
“There are organizations that have come forward to say (they) believe they should have an exemption,” Bradley said. “We’ll have to evaluate that very carefully.
“We will be extremely reluctant as a government to grant any exemptions unless a very compelling case could be made for that.”
Bradley wouldn’t give a specific date for the ban to take effect, noting it still needs to go through certain legislative processes and an education period so the public learns the rules.
But he said drivers can expect the change to come “later this year, possibly in the fall.”
Hamilton Centre MPP and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she supported the bill, noting if people must communicate while driving, there are hands-free gadgets that allow them to do so.
“Technology exists that can prevent people from having to use a hand-held device, and I think that’s where the biggest concern is in terms of distraction,” she said.
Ontario is the fourth province to enact such a ban, following Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, which in 2003 became the first province to ban the use of hand-held cellphones, the penalties range from $11 to $400 plus four demerit points.
Quebec motorists face fines of $115 plus the loss of three demerit points, while Nova Scotia’s fines start at $164.50 for a first offence and grow to $337 for subsequent offences.
In the first year after Nova Scotia made it illegal for drivers to use hand-held cellphones, close to 2,000 tickets were handed out by police.
In Quebec, the latest statistics show at least 12,000 tickets have been handed out by Montreal and provincial police since last July. Hand-held devices were banned on April 1, 2008, but Quebec drivers were given a three-month grace period.
Manitoba introduced legislation in November that proposed fines of at least $190 for using hand-held cellphones or for smoking while there are children in a vehicle, while Prince Edward Island is also considering a ban.