Thursday, April 23, 2009

Distracted Driving Law Passes At Queen's Park

Wednesday April 22, 2009 Staff

Hold the phone - especially if you're driving. A law banning the use of handheld devices behind the wheel passed at Queen's Park on Wednesday. And while there's no immediate word on when the ban will go into effect, it will change the way many of us work and drive in this province.
Under the regulations, you won't be allowed to talk on a cell phone handset while you're driving a car. Sending email or texting is also off limits, along with playing video games or using an MP3 or DVD player.
Hands-free Bluetooth devices are O.K., and you'll be allowed to use any phone in the event of an emergency to call 911. Your GPS unit will still be able to direct you, as long as its properly secured to your dashboard.
Those caught disobeying the law will be liable for a fine of up to $500. You won't get points off your licence if you're found gabbing illegally, but you could be charged under existing careless driving laws.
Groups like police and paramedics will be exempt from the new rules, and the government is prepared to make exceptions where necessary. Many concerned drivers - like cabbies - have already written wondering if they'll be included. But the Transport Minister warns getting that free pass won't be easy.
"We are prepared to listen to all representations," Jim Bradley makes clear. "The thrust of the bill, of course, is to avoid distractions caused by electronic devices that are handheld, and that remains to be the bedrock of the legislation. So people would have to make a pretty compelling argument to be exempt."
But the Ministry says those taxi drivers may be out of luck. In an email to, a government spokesperson confirms the cabbies likely won't get a pass.
"The bill does not contain an exemption from the handheld ban for cab drivers," it reads. "The only exemptions in the legislation are for police, fire and ambulance. We will consider other requests for exemptions as we develop the regulations."
They may, however, be allowed to still use their radios. Another viewer wondered what it means for those who use devices like CB radios. "Communication devices such as CBs that are hard-wired into the vehicle are not covered by the ban," the official states.
The new rules were first proposed last October, several months after Premier Dalton McGuinty indicated he had no interest in such a ban.
Safety advocates welcome the new law, predicting it will cut down on the number of distracted drivers on the roads, leading to fewer accidents.
But critics contend it's almost unenforceable and that it's the act of talking on the phone that's the problem - so the exemption for wireless chatting won't improve anything.
"In our research we found that it wasn't so much a matter of keeping your hands on the wheel as it was a matter of keeping your mind on the road," complained Dr. Donald Redelmeier of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre when the law was first proposed last year.
But Jessica Michaels begged to differ. Seven years ago, she was hit by a driver yakking on a cell phone. Her life hasn't been the same since, undergoing six operations on her injured knees.
"I wouldn't be in the situation I'm in right now," she noted when asked how things might have changed had the law been in effect back then. "I spent time in a wheelchair, on crutches. It was devastating. All because of a cell phone."
Transport Canada estimates drivers who talk or text behind the wheel are four times more likely to crash than those who are paying attention.
"Put the phone down," Michaels pleaded as the government contemplated the law. "Don't take it with you. Better yet, put it in the back of the car. Put it in the trunk. You don't need to answer that phone."
Ontario is the fourth province in Canada to institute some form of a cell phone driving ban. Similar rules are in place in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
It's not immediately clear when the law will go into effect, although Transport Minister Jim Bradley hinted strongly that it will be enforced here starting sometime in the fall.
For a list of what you can and can't use when it begins, click here.
Your reaction

New Law Q&A
Can I use my hand-held cell phone to call for help in an emergency?
Yes. Drivers may place emergency calls to the police, fire department and emergency medical services. If possible, drivers should pull off the road before making an emergency call.

Can I use my hand-held cell phone or other device while I'm stopped in traffic or at a red traffic light?
No. Drivers will only be permitted to use their hand-held device when safely pulled off the roadway.

Will the law apply to all drivers?
No. Police, fire department and emergency medical services personnel will be permitted to use hand-held wireless communications devices in the normal performance of their duties.The Ministry of Transportation is also considering additional exemptions for certain communications devices used to dispatch, track and monitor commercial drivers and include these in supporting regulations.
The ministry is working with stakeholders to ensure that the legislation does not place unintended restrictions on industry.

When will the new law come into effect?
It is anticipated that the ban on hand-held devices will take effect as early as fall 2009 to allow for the development of supporting regulations.
Source Ministry of Transportation

1 comment:

  1. the above link provided for the MTO and the above are not in sycn. When will the MTO be updated to reduce the more severe penalties

    Drivers who place others at risk as a result of using a hands-free device can be charged with Careless Driving and face fines of up to $1,000, six demerit points, driver’s
    licence suspension and possible jail time. Drivers convicted of Dangerous Driving (a criminal offence), could face a penalty of up to $2,000 and five years in jail.