B.C. answers the cell ban call

VICTORIA — Drivers in B.C. will have financial reasons to make switching to hands-free cell phones a New Year’s resolution.

Legislative changes to the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) in B.C. were proposed recently to prevent the use of handheld cell phones, portable electronic devices and text messaging while driving.

The changes will outlaw operating or holding handheld cell phones or other electronic devices, sending or reading emails and/or texting (e.g., BlackBerry, PDA, cell phone), operating or holding handheld music or portable gaming devices (e.g., MP3 players, iPods), manual programming or adjusting GPS systems, whether built into the vehicle or not, while driving — settings must be programmed before driving.

“We’re taking action today because British Columbians have made it clear they support stronger restrictions on cell phones and other devices that take a driver’s hands off the wheel and their eyes from the road,” said the province’s Solicitor General Kash Heed. “Simply put, you can not talk, type or dial on any handheld device while driving.”

Changes to the MVA, upon legislative approval, are to take effect on Jan. 1, 2010. At that point, only hands-free cell phones and devices that require one touch to activate will be permitted, which will include trucker’s CB radios, unlike Ontario’s legislation.

Other permitted actions and devices in the MVA will include use of hands-free cell phones that are built in or securely fixed to the vehicle, and used by pressing a single button – once only – in order to activate a hands-free device for incoming or outgoing calls, pre-programmed and voice-activated GPS devices, and a 9-1-1 call to report an emergency.

The fine for being caught talking on a handheld device while driving will be $167 and will begin to be levied on Feb. 1, 2010. If drivers are caught texting or emailing they will receive an additional three penalty points.

On average, about 117 people die each year in B.C. and 1,400 are sent to hospital because someone was not paying attention behind the wheel.

These changes bring British Columbia in line with the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

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