Two-ways, Mikes OK in BC; while PEI dials in new ban

VANCOUVER — After a one month grace period of warnings from police about B.C.’s new distracted driving law, monetary fines began getting handed out on Feb. 1.

Fully licensed drivers caught talking on a handheld phone or electronic device will face a $167 fine in the province, while those found texting or emailing will also net three penalty points.

“Police have been stopping drivers throughout January to give them warnings about talking on a cell phone, and people seem to be getting the message and changing their behaviour," said B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed. “But the grace period will soon be over and drivers who don’t keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road will now pay the price.”

The changes to B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act that ban or restrict the use of many electronic devices by drivers came into effect Jan. 1.

Fully licensed drivers are restricted to using only hands-free cell phones and other electronic devices. A number of devices fall under the banned category, but CB radios aren’t among them.

The B.C. Trucking Association has been in communication with the RCMP regarding reports indicating that RCMP officers will be enforcing BC’s new distracted driving regulation for all electronic devices, including hand microphones and GPS systems.

Recent RCMP media releases state generally that the use of hand mikes and GPS systems is prohibited, when in fact the legislation allows restricted use of these devices. Furthermore, the regulation does not apply to two-way radios, which drivers can continue to use without change.

Drivers can receive calls on hand mikes used with compatible speaker phones or headsets (i.e., when used hands-free). Initiating calls on hand mikes, which requires drivers to hold the mike and look at the screen, is prohibited. GPS systems that are mounted on the vehicle (permanently or temporarily) and are pre-programmed or voice-activated are also permitted.

PEI also recently put a distracted driving law in place, going into effect on Jan. 23. The province also has made an exemption for CB radios, but nearly every other handheld electronic device for communication is banned from use while behind the wheel.

The province says there will be an adjustment period where warnings will be issued instead of fines, but when those fines kick in they’ll range from $250 – $400.

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