Ontario dialing up cell phone ban today

TORONTO — Following in the footsteps of Quebec and two Atlantic provinces, Ontario will introduce legislation today that forces drivers to hang up their cell phones while behind the wheel.

According to the Toronto Star, drivers will be fined and lose demerit points for talking on a hand-held device, texting, e-mailing or using manual GPS systems under the new law.

Hands-free phones and automatic, dashboard mounted telematic devices will be allowed, however. Most of those latter systems are designed so that the vehicle must be stopped before routing information is entered or changed.

That means cellphones with earpieces or Bluetooth technology will be exempt, despite a recent report by the Ontario Medical Association that concludes they are just as distracting to drivers as hand-held phones.

No word yet if some in-cab trucking operations will fall under the cell ban.

Other studies also support that claim. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for example, found there is virtually no difference in the safety level between hand-held and hands-free cell phones.

The move represents a change of heart for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who months ago said current careless driving laws are sufficient to weed out problem drivers.

Another issue: What about truck drivers?

There’s no word yet if the legislation would make some exceptions for truckers and cab drivers that require the regular use of in-cab telematics to do their work.

As Today’s Trucking reported earlier this year, Quebec (which joined Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in banning cell phones in May), doesn’t specifically make an exemption for CB-like cellular functions such as Telus’ “Mike” and “10-4” from Bell Mobility.

To use these "push-to-talk" devices, drivers have to do just that, which is technically a violation of the rules. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any hands-free voice recognition option for this kind of technology at the moment.

The Ontario Trucking Association raised concerns when it learned Ontario was pondering a similar rule. "An outright ban on the use of in vehicle electronic devices in Ontario would not be feasible for the trucking industry," said OTA President David Bradley at the time.

The OTA urged a more "sensible" approach where charges would be laid for distracted driving rather than an outright ban on the use of electronic communications devices.


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