Cellphone ban looms for Ontario drivers

Sarah Kirkpatrick found out the hard way the dangers of driving and using a cellphone at the same time.

“I was trying to text and this lady in front of me stopped, and I didn’t look up in time,” Kirkpatrick, 23,  said. “I rear-ended her.”

For Kirkpatrick, this resulted in a careless driving ticket of $350. But at some point this fall, the consequences of electronically multi-tasking while behind the wheel will be a lot worse.

Before the forthcoming cellphone ban, which rules the use of any handheld device – including MP3 players and GPS systems – is prohibited while driving, a driver who caused an accident because they weren’t paying attention would get a careless driving ticket.

For the Ontario Provincial Police, it didn’t matter what caused you to be reckless; that was something they didn’t look into. After the ban comes into effect, however, the presence of a cellphone matters, and the price drivers will pay could double.

“You could literally get both,” Sergeant Dave Woodford of the OPP said. “What this legislation is going to do is change it so it doesn’t matter it it’s an accident of not. If you’re on the phone it will be a separate charge.”

According to the Ministry of Transportation, the link between cellphone usage while driving and car accidents is solid and well documented. Ministry spokeswoman Emna Dhahak said the evidence speaks for itself.

“Studies show there is a four-fold increase in collision risk when drivers use cell phones,” Dhahak said.

“An important study published by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found the most frequent type of secondary task performed by drivers is the use of a hand-held wireless communication device.”

There are arguments that doing anything while driving, including changing CDs or the radio, is just as dangerous as using a cellphone. The Canadian Safety Council is supportive.

“Our stance is that hands-free is not risk-free,” Powell said.  “We’re really pushing towards people trying to limit all distractions, but this law is a step in the right direction.”

For the OPP, the law is a good one if it increases the chances of people arriving at their destinations safe and sound.

“We’re supportive of any legislation that’s going to make the roads safe,” Woodford said. “If it saves a life then it’s a good piece of legislation. We’re into saving lives.”

Powell said the effectiveness of the ban is yet to be seen, but she is optimistic.

“We hope it will be effective and that there’ll be a lot of media campaigns done about it to raise the awareness,” Powell said.

However, a certain amount of mystery still hangs around the new law.

“We don’t know much about it because we haven’t seen it,” Woodford said. “It’s been presented but the details haven’t been worked out yet.”

Powell said they are fuzzy on the details as well.

“I’ve been trying to find a date,” Powell said. “But I heard it’s going to come into effect near the end of October. They’re just ironing out a few last details and once that’s done it’ll be in effect.”

Like Powell, Drive Safe Canada’s website cites Oct. 1 to Oct. 30 as the grace period before enforcement of the ban gets serious. According to the Ministry however, there is no official date set yet. The ban should be in effect sometime this fall.

As for Kirkpatrick, she’s learned her lesson, law or no law.

“I definitely don’t think it’s smart to be driving and using my cell phone anymore,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’ll try to be better about it, but it’s hard to break that habit.”