Thursday, October 29, 2009

The cell phone ban is now in effect

We are now officially banned from using our hand-held electronic devices. Drivers can no longer text, email or even hold their cell phones while driving.

If a driver is caught using a hand-held device, they can face a fine of up to $500. Unlike other provinces, there are no demerit points attached to the offence.

From October 26, 2009 until February 1, 2010, there will be an education period. Some drivers believe that if they are caught, officers cannot issue them tickets yet. However, Sgt Dave Woodford of the OPP warns drivers that they should not assume they are scot-free. Although officers are showing some leniency, they can still lay charges by way of summons, where the driver would have to go to court to find out how big the fine will be.

Drivers are urged to not use their hand-held devices, and at the very least, use hands-free attachments if they really need to make or receive a call.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The cell phone ban is almost here!

As the time soon approaches for Ontario’s new ban on portable hand-held devices, it is still not fully clear exactly what is banned. The ban takes effect Oct 26, 2009, but we will receive a grace period of three months and, apparently, we will not be issued tickets until Feb 1, 2010.

We have been hearing that cell phones are banned, unless they are used in the hand-free mode. Entertainment devices, such as DVD players are also banned, if they are in the view of the driver. There will be an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act section 78 (1). The proposed addition is:

78.1 Handheld Devices Prohibited
  1. Wireless communication devices – no person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a hand-held wireless communication device or other prescribed device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, mail or text messages.
  2. Entertainment devices – no person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a hand-held electronic entertainment device or other prescribed device the primary use of which is unrelated to the safe operation of the motor vehicle.
  3. Hands-free mode allowed – despite subsections (1) and (2), a person may drive a motor vehicle on a highway while using a device described in these subsections in hands-free mode.
This seems pretty straight forward. You cannot use a cell phone or blackberry while driving (or even when you are stuck in traffic) your car, unless it is with a hands-free device. Entertainment devices such as DVD players or even hand-held mp3 players are also banned.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. An obvious exception is:

4. Subsection (1) does not apply to,
  1. The driver of an ambulance, fire department vehicle or police department vehicle;
  2. Any other prescribed person or class of persons;
  3. A person holding or using a device prescribed for the purpose of this subsection; or
  4. A person engaged in prescribed conditions or circumstances.
  5. Subsection (1) does not apply in respect of the use of a device to contact ambulance, police or fire department emergency services.
  6. Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply if all of the following conditions are met:
    1. The motor vehicle is off the roadway or is lawfully parked on the roadway.
    2. The motor vehicle is not in motion.
    3. The motor vehicle is not impeding traffic.
So, as we can see, the Ontario government says that hand-held devices cannot be used while operating vehicles. If one does not have a hands-free device, they must pull off the highway and use it there, once lawfully parked and the vehicle is not impeding traffic. As mentioned before, this does NOT mean that we can use our hand-held cell phones while at a red light, or when stuck in traffic. In case of emergencies, we can still call 911 in order to contact emergency services. They have tried to make it very clear when and where we can use our devices. According to one of the government’s flyers, we can continue to use our GPS units, as long as they are mounted on the dashboard.

Now, here are some of the questions that Ontario drivers may now be thinking:
  1. When mounting a GPS unit, in order to stay “lawful”, do I have to literally mount my unit to the dashboard? Can I not continue to mount it to my front windshield?
  2. I can continue to use my portable mp3 player as long as it is plugged into my car’s audio system. During a conference with Transportation Minister Jim Bradley, a reporter asked if a driver were to mount his i-pod by taping it to his dashboard, would this be lawful to do so? Jim Bradley said he was not sure if this would be permitted.
These questions will hopefully be answered soon. There are going to be many new questions and concerns that arise, and I hope that the Ontario government Is up to the challenge.

Following the three month period, which is supposed to be used to educate drivers, fines will range from $60-$500. Stg. Tim Burrows of the OPP says that if a driver is caught using a hand-held device, he or she may also be charged with careless driving – costing up to $1,000, six demerit points and a driver’s license suspension. It will be up to the discretion of the police officer whether to charge a driver with distraction or careless driving – or the worst case scenario: both.

So I would like to encourage Ontario drivers to try not to use their cell phones or fumble with their radios and GPS units at all while driving. If it is necessary that you use these devices, please use the hands-free modes and hopefully this will keep our streets safer for everyone.

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