The Ontario government has once again suggested it will consider banning handheld cell phones while driving. In fact, it has hinted any legislation will encompass not just phones – but also the use of other gadgets that cause driver distraction as well, such as portable GPS systems.
However, I have to wonder if such a rule would really improve road safety? Laws banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving are already on the books in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Quebec. In Nova Scotia and Quebec, the bans are still too recent to determine whether they have positively impacted road safety. In Newfoundland, however, there seems to have been a modest improvement since the ban was implemented in 2002.
Between 2003 and 2005, statistics show the number of collisions dropped 8% in Newfoundland. That’s a pretty impressive figure, but let’s not forget that overall road safety has also improved in many other provinces in recent years – even without a cell phone ban. Just how much of that 8% improvement can be traced back to the cell phone ban is subject for debate.
I get as annoyed as anyone when I see a motorist gabbing on the phone, which is almost always accompanied by unsignaled lane changes and other careless behaviour. But if such a ban is put into place in Ontario, I can’t help but envision dozens of cars pulling onto the shoulders of the 400-series highways each kilometre so drivers can place or receive that urgent phone call. (After all, we can’t expect such important discussions as what to pick up for dinner to be postponed, can we?)
Having cars routinely pulling over to the side of the road, and then sitting there while traffic whizzes past at over 120 km/h before having to get back up to speed and safely merge back onto the highway would seem to me to pose a far greater safety risk than had the driver simply placed the call while at speed. If Ontario proceeds with the ban, I hope it also takes this into consideration and includes some accompanying restrictions which would prevent cars from simply pulling onto the shoulders of high-speed highways to make or receive calls.
But then that would create an enforcement wrinkle wouldn’t it? ‘No officer, I was just calling a tow truck because my engine light came on – yeah, that’s it! But it’s off now, so I’ll be on my way.’
James Menzies is editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies