No-texting law now has teeth

One day recently, Seneca College student Kimberley Colbourne texted on her cellphone. She informed her manager in a message that she was running late. He replied as she sat in her car at a stoplight.

“I received the text message from my manager while I was driving, but purposely waited until I got to a red light to reply,” Colbourne said.

She looked down at her cellphone and started texting.

“I looked up (and) a cop was walking towards my car,” she said.

One month has passed since Ontario’s distracted driving law became official and already hundreds have been charged.

The law, which forbids all drivers from talking and texting on hand-held cellphones on the road, took effect on Oct. 26.

During the first three months, police conducted a public education and awareness campaign to inform people about the new law. On Feb. 1 police began issuing tickets to offenders.

Since then, police have charged 470 drivers and given warnings to 468 others.

Police charged Colbourne and gave her a $155 ticket. She argued that because her car was idle at a red light, she should be considered exempt. But the distracted driving ban only allows drivers to use hand-held devices when lawfully parked or pulled off the roadway.

Paralegal Philip Alexiu, who works with Legal Action, pointed out that the tickets are administered by visual observation.

“Police officers stand at street corners, similar to how it’s done with regards to speeding and seat belt tickets,” Alexiu said. “Even while driving in their patrol cruiser they can spot it.”

Colbourne has fought tickets in the past, but was unsure whether to challenge this one in court.

“It will be one person’s word against the other and although it is $155, I don’t want to waste my time and end up disappointed, ” she said.

If taken to court, the charge cannot be reduced and offenders run the risk of paying up to $500. Alexiu suggested that all people charged with this ban should contact a legal advisor.

“Most paralegals offer free consultations and they can get them to assess their specific situation and determine whether any defences will be available to beat their charge,” he said.

The new law says that drivers can use their cellphones, but only in a “hands-free” manner. Hand-held communication devices, such as an MP3 player or a GPS, are to be activated before driving the vehicle and cannot be operated while driving.

The only exemption to the law is if a driver is making a 911 emergency call.