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Does an Ontario cell phone ban make sense?

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

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.
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7 Comments » for Does an Ontario cell phone ban make sense?
  1. James L. Alderton says:

    James,If a province wide ban was implemented after a while human reaction would be to ignore the ringing,call back later”Call display”How many times have you witnessed people entering information into laptops,company computers?Is this a safe action?Futher wnen certain new laws are enacted “PROFESSIONAL DRIVER BOREDOM WILL INCREASE,CRUISE CONTROL ON LETS READ A BOOK/NEWSPAPER,TALK ON CELL PHONE,ENTER LOCATION AND LOAD STATUS ON COMPANY COMPUTER.”James take a cruise in an 18 wheeler Windsor to Montreal you would be amazed at peoples actions!When you sit in a 4 wheeler you miss most of the action!

  2. Dave says:

    I understand why the issue of distracted drivers has to be addressed, but I am not sure that legislation targeting specifically cellphones and GPS units would be that effective.
    Drivers speed despite the posted speed limits. Law enforcement personal use cellphones and laptop computers while driving to run licence plates of vehicles and communicate. GPS units assist lost or confused drivers with verbal directions so that they are not taking their eyes off the road to unfold and read paper maps as well as getting into distracting arguments with their spouses regarding whether or not to stop and ask for directions.
    Abuse of these devices endanger other road users, that has been proven, but I think what needs to be addressed is not whether or not these devices should be used, but when and how they should be used.

  3. Jed says:

    Will this rule include a microphone for a CB? If this legislation passes, it could include CB’s. I’m sure that if cell phones are banned, it would only be a matter of time until someone complains about CB’s. What about cell phones with a headset? Would they be allowed? I agree it would be a severe hazard to have vehicles pulling over to the side of the road and then re-entering traffic. What about secondary roads where the shoulder is narrow? What about the winter time? Some vehicles may not even pull off the the travelled section for fear of getting in the ditch. This legislation is a bad idea, but maybe the onus lies on police to start charging drivers that are “obviously distracted”, whether it be a cell phone or anything else.

  4. Ed Rose says:

    I have the solution and have had it for years. There are devices to make cell phone calls hands-free, that do not require head-sets which are unsafe for two reasons. Head-sets are basically small speakers that you wear on your head. If they are bluetooth, they are also small radios. Both these devices could be bad for you health. The electro magnetic radiation that is emitted from your cell phone can travel up the wire to your headset concentrating it to the side of your head. A bluetooth head-set being a small radio emits electro magnetic radiation at the side of your head also. Neither option is guaranteed safe.
    I am an installer of fixed mount, vehicle hands free devices that are installed to your vehicle. The latest kits on the market are wirelss bluetooth models that incorperate a loudspeaker, a microphone and control pad. Less complicated than a car radio to operate, these devices give a you a complete hands-free environment. Loud and clear coversations with complete voice dial operation. Auto answer and voice dial features allow you to leave the phone in your pocket or in your purse and your hands on the wheel. These units are also available in many new cars from the factory. The aftermarket kits I install are available for any vehicle.
    Texting however, while driving can not be done safely under any circumstance. GPS units that encourage the driver to avert their eyes form the road are also dangerous.
    A common sense approach to this issue has been long required. I hope the Ontario government comes up with a reasonable approach to this pressing issue.

  5. elana says:

    If they ban GPS devices, does that mean we all have to go back to reading maps while driving? My GPS is mounted on the windshield and it talks to me. I don’t have to look at it in order to see where to turn but, it is considered a portable unit since it is not permanently mounted in the car. I used to rely on MapQuest to get me to my destination…I can’t imagine that is safer than a talking GPS!

  6. Wilf says:

    To ban hand held cell phones makes a lot of sense, but to ban GPS is NUTS. With a GPS that gives verbal instructions one does not have to take his/her eyes off the road. It is a lot safer to listen to verabal directions than to be trying to look at a road map and drive.
    Perhaps our premier should listen to his past famous OPP spokesman Sgt Cam Wooley who last winter suggested publically on TV that every driver should purchase a GPS so they could tell the emergancy authorities where they where located on the 400 in case of an accident!!!!!

  7. brian fullarton says:

    Distracted drivers will continue to be just that, with or without Big Brother’s interference. People driving [or at least trying to] while yelling at kids or arguing with a spouse, lack the concentration required, in the same way as someone yakking on a phone. It isn’t so much the object of one’s attention,-or should I say, inattention- as much as the lack of driving skills to start with. If government wants to really make our roads safer, they need to start by making regular driver re-testing mandatory, and quickly removing unsafe drivers from the roads. While we’re at it, let’s get the people who do the driver testing re-tested themselves, so they won’t put unfit drivers on the road to begin with.

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