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Cell phone banned wagon

Earlier this year, Nova Scotia and Quebec joined Newfoundland in forbidding the hand-held use of cell phones. Yet each province's law is worded slightly different, suggesting slight differences in how...

Earlier this year, Nova Scotia and Quebec joined Newfoundland in forbidding the hand-held use of cell phones. Yet each province’s law is worded slightly different, suggesting slight differences in how each might be applied. Here are the laws, which communication devices each province’s government and police say they apply to, and comments from some trucking companies.

Newfoundland put into force Canada’s first cell phone ban law (Law 15) on April 1, 2003. It is the only one that seriously attempts to define a cell phone:

“(a) ‘cellular phone’ means an apparatus which can send and receive two-way voice telecommunications without the aid of a wire or cord, except where that wire or cord is used as a power source, and excludes a two-way radio device; and (b) ‘hand-held cellular phone’ means a cellular phone the use of which requires being placed in proximity to the mouth and ear by being held in the hand or by another means that uses one or more parts of the body, but does not include a cellular phone that is equipped with and used with an external speaker or ear phone and microphone that may stand alone, be mounted in the vehicle, or worn on the body.

A person shall not use a hand-held cellular phone while driving a motor vehicle on a highway.”

“Our legislation only applies to a device held to the ear,” explains Vanessa Colman-Sadd, director of communications with the department of government services for Newfoundland and Labrador. “We have not been challenged on the 10-4 system. Our understanding is that it is mostly used with external speakers, which would make it okay. Two-way VHF or UHF radios and CB’s are not considered to be cell phones and would not be captured under this legislation. Obviously truckers using the above communications means would not be charged under the legislation.”

Asked if there are any gray areas in this law, Sergeant Wayne Newell, media relations officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in St. John’s, said, “It is not gray. It is not against the law to use CBs. The ban applies strictly to cell phones. Hands-free mode is permitted and strongly encouraged.” He adds, “I would say it is legal to use 10-4. They are not a distraction to the same extent as cell phones. 10-4s are not up to your ear. You are keying a mic and talking, like a CB. It is just up to your mouth, the ones I have seen. Some of our officers use them for different applications.”

Since its coming into force, to the end of the 2006-2007 fiscal year, 920 people, including one provincial Premier and at least one truck driver in October, were convicted under this law. Colman- Sadd could not say how many truckers in all have been charged or convicted.

Asked to comment on the law, Robert Blake, terminal manager with Day & Ross in St. John’s, says, “My personal opinion is that drivers not use cell phones at all, but this is not our official position. In my mind you should pull over.” He says most drivers are equipped with 10-4, but they are not company issue. He says you can’t use a 10-4 to call someone who has a cell phone.

Gordon Peddle, president of D. D. Transport Ltd in Mount Pearl, Nfld., says, “Our company policy is no cell phones without the hands-free at all, but we are not encouraging our drivers to use hands-free. If you need to make a call, pull off the road. I’m not disagreeing with the ban. At the end of the day, we use satellite to communicate. All of our trucks are equipped with computers and we tell our drivers not to use them when they are driving.”

The Nova Scotia law (Law 7) is short and sweet: “It is an offence for a person to use a hand-held cellular telephone or engage in text messaging on any communications device while operating a vehicle on a highway.”

“The legislation is specific to cellular telephones. What the bill is intended to address is cell phones, Blackberries and hand-held items,” says Nova Scotia Justice Department spokesperson Cathy McIsaac. As for headsets, she says, “If it is hands-free technology, it will be permitted.” She also stated that CB radios are not part of the ban.

Sergeant Mark Gallagher, official spokesperson for the RCMP in Nova Scotia, stated that they are not interested in criminalizing CBs or walkie-talkies (10-4).All this should reassure the Lunenburg trucker who says he was told by a government employee that walkie-talkie phones and CBs were banned under the law, as well as another trucker who heard, ostensibly from the RCMP, that headphones were banned.

Quebec’s law (Law 42) is even briefer:

“No person may, while driving a road vehicle, use a hand-held device that includes a telephone function. For the purposes of this section, a driver who is holding a hand-held device that includes a telephone function is presumed to be using the device.”

According to the Socit de l’assurance automobile du Qubec (SAAQ), CBs and walkie-talkies are not covered by the law. SAAQ even explains why they are exempt: “CBs are used to send and receive orders, not for making a conversation.”

The 10-4 devices are bit trickier though. Since they can also be programmed to function as cell phones, and not just for talking to others in more limited networks, SAAQ acknowledges that a driver could be stopped for using one. If a charge were laid, the driver would have to show the court documents that demonstrate that his 10-4 did not have a cell function.

A media representative with the provincial police force, Surt du Qubec, confirms that the law covers devices with a dual function: “Drivers cannot use devices with a cellular function without having a hands-free way to use it.” The representative also acknowledges that CBs and devices with a walkie-talkie function are not included in the ban.

A representative of Groupe Transport Lessard in Louisville, Que., claims that hand-held use of Mikes is not allowed under the law, because they can be connected to cell phones. Companies like Telus and Motorola offer Mikes, which are described as acting like a walkie-talkie, or a cell phone, pager and wireless Web device. It was unclear from the conversation whether there is anything about Mikes, per se, that offends Law 42, or if the representative just happens to believe that they are grouped with cell phones under the law because of their cellular capability.

The representative also mentions that Mikes are not 10-4 systems, but an Internet search reveals the following on the Telus Web site:”Only TELUS Mobility MiKE handsets use all-digital iDEN offering a combined digital wireless phone, two-way radio, alphanumeric pager, and wireless data service.” The Bell Web site explains, “… the 10-4 service provides an all-in-one communication tool:A cell phone and a walkie-talkie with data capability. Plus, it lets you to talk one-to-one or with up to five other subscribers at once!”

(It seems as though some members of the public, police and government do not quite understand the full extent to which the cell phone laws might apply to communication technologies, because they do not fully understand the communication technologies.)

Ontario does not have a law that bans the hand-held use of cell phones. This March, though, Ontario Conservative party member John O’Toole introduced Private Member’s Bill 40, which would ban the hand-held use of, “a cellular phone, car phone, pager, personal data assistant, portable computer, fax machine or other equipment prescribed by the regulations while driving a motor vehicle on a highway.”The bill also notes that such devices cannot be used with listening devices that cover or provides sound to both ears.

O’Toole explains that the intent of the bill is to target,”… pressing buttons, finding keys, reading … these are the distractions that my bill deals with. I don’t see a problem as long as it is hands-free. But if you are talking about stock, or talking with your lawyer, important stuff, that is not a good place to use them.”

This line of thinking, which sounds a bit like sometimes being able to eat your cake and sometimes not, mirrors a belief clearly implicit in the cell laws: that the act of talking on cell phones is not distracting. Yet research indicates that this is not true.

Interestingly, the trucking industry realizes this. Some go beyond the limits of the laws written by lawmakers and politicians, who no doubt realized what could be banned without nasty blow-back from inconvenienced voters.

“We do ban using cell phones when the vehicle is in motion. It is a distraction. Everybody knows that. This has been our company policy for as long as I have been here -11 years,” says Tanya Theroux, driver services and safety manager with Challenger Motor Freight in Cambridge, Ont. “We feel that just plain talking can be a distraction. Even a Bluetooth is a distraction. It is not so much what your hands are doing, but where your mind is. We teach in our defensive driving that you must be constantly alert, checking your mirrors, your surroundings.”

Doug Switzer, manager of government relations with the Ontario Trucking Association, agrees. “From my understanding of it, the issue of a hands-free is pretty much a red herring. The distraction factor is the conversation, not that you are dialing.”

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