Drivers across the GTA are now looking over their shoulder before reaching for that ringing cellphone thanks to a new law that took effect on Oct. 26.
The distracted driving law makes it illegal for drivers to use cellphones and other hand held electronics while operating a motor vehicle on Ontario’s roads, according to the Ministry of Transportation.
This includes using cellphones for text, talk or e-mail, hand-operated GPS, portable DVD players and MP3 players.
Drivers are allowed to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency and are encouraged to use hands-free headsets or Bluetooth devices for their electronics while on the road.
The Ontario Provincial Police are giving drivers until Feb. 1 to become familiar with the law. During the three month education period, police will issue warnings to drivers who are caught breaking the new rule.
Sergeant Tim Burrows from Traffic Services with the Toronto Police Service said officers are focused on issuing warnings until Feb. 1, after which drivers can face fines up to $500 upon conviction.
“Right now, (police) can write tickets under the new law for anyone caught driving while on a cellphone,” Burrows said. “Educating drivers is our priority right now, and after Feb. 1, officers will be in a position to issue tickets.”
According to Burrows, there is no data on how many drivers have been issued warnings since Oct. 26. He said the law is straight-forward.
“It is 100 per cent illegal to use any hand-held device such as a cellphone, a smart phone, a portable video player or game console, anything useable by the driver,” Burrows said. “You can use a headset, wireless or Bluetooth but again, you can’t access dialing by hand.”
Burrows said there are no exceptions to the law. Being stopped at a red light and dialing is O.K. but only if you’re using a headset to talk. He doesn’t advise drivers to dial while in stop and go traffic on the highway because it’s still considered driving.
Burrows said the feedback from drivers about the new law is positive.
“The vast majority of drivers love it,” he said. “People really respect the fact that (talking on a cellphone) is a distraction. Even the people who have self-admittedly said it’s going to be tough for them to adhere to welcome the legislation because of the fact (talking on a cellphone) is a danger (to their safety).”