October 2008

Ontario proposes ban on hand-held electronic devices

The government of Ontario has introduced legislation that would ban the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving. Motorists who use a hand-held cellphone, send email or text messages or use other hand-held devices while driving would face fines up to $500, under the bill. The use of hands-free devices would still be permitted. A news release announcing the proposed legislation notes that Transport Canada estimates that driver distraction is a contributing factor in about 20% of all collisions. One research study estimated that drivers on cellphones are four times as likely to be in a crash as someone not on a phone. "We know these new technologies have created some tremendous conveniences, but we know something else: deep down, we all know it is dangerous to use them while driving," said Transportation Minister Jim Bradley in the release. The ban would see Ontario join Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and other jurisdictions worldwide who have banned hand-held cellphones while driving. While research has shown that hands-free cellphone use poses similar risks, governments have hesitated to ban those among drivers, on the grounds that enforcement would be extremely difficult.

What’s permitted and what’s not

It would be illegal for motorists to use hand-held wireless communication devices or any hand-held electronic entertainment devices while driving. In addition to phone calls, emails and text messaging, that means drivers would be prohibited from using portable video games, portable MP3 players, laptop computers and viewing DVD players while driving.

  • Drivers can still place emergency calls to the police, fire department and emergency medical services but are encouraged to pull off the road to do so, if possible. Being stopped in traffic or at a red light does not allow a driver to use any of these devices.
  • Hands-free communications are still permitted. That includes a cellphone with an earpiece or headset, a global positioning system that is secured to the dashboard and a portable media player plugged into the vehicle’s sound system.
  • Also still allowed are collision avoidance systems and instrument display screens. As well, drivers can use any of the restricted devices if they are lawfully parked or have pulled off the roadway.
  • Emergency services personnel may continue to use communication devices in performing their jobs. In addition to the fine, drivers who put others at risk while using a hands-free device can be charged with careless driving or dangerous driving, facing licence suspensions and possible jail time.

Updated October 29, 2008