Ontario cellphone ban starts Monday, violators could face $500 fine
By Maria Babbage (CP) – 12 hours ago
TORONTO — Starting Monday, Ontario drivers will be the latest Canadians prohibited from using cellphones or BlackBerrys while behind the wheel.
Millions of motorists in the country's most populous province are banned from using any hand-held electronic devices to text, email or talk while driving, except for 911 calls.
They're also forbidden from using portable video games or DVD players while chugging along. Global positioning systems are allowed, as long as they're properly secured to the dashboard.
It's the fourth province to enact such a ban, following Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Manitoba's cellphone ban is expected to be proclaimed into law next year, British Columbia has introduced similar legislation and Saskatchewan has promised a bill this fall.
Hands-free devices aren't covered under the Ontario ban, but provincial officials say they're not recommended for use while driving.
Cabinet ministers usually have a driver to shuttle them around on official business, but Ontario Corrections and Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci said he still made sure he was prepared for the ban.
"Guess what? I purchased my earpiece," he said.
"I won't be using my hands to use the cellphone. I respect the law because it respects the safety of my fellow Ontarians."
Ontario drivers could be fined up to $500 if they're caught, but unlike other provinces, there are no demerit points attached.
There will be an "education" period in the first three months where police will show some leniency and, in many cases, simply let drivers off with a warning.
But make no mistake - drivers should not assume they're "scot-free" until February, said Sgt. Dave Woodford, a spokesman for the Ontario Provincial Police.
Cops still have discretion to lay charges by way of summons under the new law, where the driver would have to go to court to find out how big the fine will be, he said.
Motorists using a banned device can also be charged under careless driving laws and face fines, six demerit points, licence suspension - even jail time.
"If we see someone driving erratically or they're involved in a collision and they've been on their cellphone, there are already offences in place under the Highway Traffic Act where people can be charged," he said.
"So you don't want to send out he wrong messaging that you're allowed to talk on the phone for the next three months and not be charged with any offences, because you could be."
According to the 2006 Ontario Road Safety annual report, there were 77 fatalities among the 33,551 accidents due to "inattentive" drivers, which included talking on a cellphone while driving.
It's hard to know how many accidents were caused by drivers talking on their cellphones, said Woodford. The cause of many accidents are never known because the driver was killed.
Ontario was the first province to extend the ban to all hand-held electronic devices, a move that B.C. has followed in legislation introduced last week.
The proposed new rules - billed as the most comprehensive in Canada - would go a step further by banning new drivers in B.C. from hands-free phones. Drivers caught violating the rules would receive three penalty points on top of a $167 fine.
But motorists should go beyond the letter of the law if they want to stay safe on the roads, said Robert Tremblay of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
"Using hands-free devices while driving is certainly better than using hand-held devices, but not using any distracting devices, or participating in any distracting behaviour at all, is the best policy," he said in a statement.
The bureau's tips for obeying the new law include:
-Eat before driving so you won't be tempted to juggle distracting snacks behind the wheel.
-Pull over and park before using a cellphone or other hand-held electronic device.
-Create a "driving" playlist on your iPod or music player and activate it before you hit the road so you won't be searching for a good song while driving.
-If there's something distracting you - something fell on the floor, the kids are acting up in the back seat - pull over to a safe area first, then deal with it.
-Check the map, adjust the seat, the climate control and the radio, and familiarize yourself with the dashboard controls, before heading out.
-Make sure pets are safely secured and in the back seat.
-Listen to your GPS device, don't look at it.