Hands-free message not received by all drivers
After a day-long blitz in every division, Toronto Police say some motorists haven't got the message about Ontario's new hands-free driving law and are still falling back to their old cellphone habits.
"We had a lot of compliance," Toronto Police Const. Hugh Smith told CTV Toronto on Monday. "The message is getting out there, but there were still a few that had developed these habits ... and they're going to have to change that behaviour."
But despite extensive media coverage, Smith said many drivers claimed they simply did not know about the new law.
Under the province-wide ban, drivers are forbidden from talking, texting or emailing on their portable phones while behind the wheel of their vehicle. The law, which came into effect on Monday, is aimed at protecting drivers from distractions that take their eyes off the road for a long period of time.
The new law is a "good first step" in ensuring safety on the road, said an official with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Robert Tremblay, the research director at IBC, said Monday the legislation addresses some important factors to help avoid driver distraction on the road.
"From experiment and research, we have a good idea that (this new law) has the potential to reduce (the risk of an accident) from four times to 1.1 times," he said.
He cited texting and emailing as the most dangerous tasks drivers do on their mobile devices, as research shows that motorists are 23 times more likely to get into an accident when they're typing behind the wheel.
The new law also forbids drivers from operating entertainment products such as portable DVD players and laptops.
However, iPods and GPS units are still permitted as long as they are mounted to a dashboard or "another accessible place in the vehicle," Ontario's Ministry of Transportation states on its website.
Other exceptions to the rules are:
- Drivers can use cell phones to dial 911 if they have an emergency
- Phones can be used behind the wheel if the driver safely pulls off the road or is parked
- Hands-free devices, such as headsets and phones plugged into the vehicle's sound system, can also be used
- Emergency workers like paramedics will be able to use hand-held phones for the next three years for work purposes
Drivers are not permitted to use hand-held devices while they are stopped in traffic, either at a stop light or stop sign.
Drivers who violate the new law won't be given a ticket just yet, according to the Ontario Provincial Police.
For the next few months, drivers who are caught on their cell phones will be given a stern warning by police. On February 1, authorities will start ticketing drivers with fines of up to $500.
In addition to fines, police may lay charges of careless driving or dangerous driving, depending on the circumstances. Demerit points will also be added.
Smith warns that even though officers won't start issuing tickets until February, they can still hand out careless driving tickets, if they're related to cell phone use.
Tremblay said the legislation is a key step in getting drivers to be more aware of the dangers around distractions.
"This goes beyond fines and enforcement," he said. "It's about raising awareness. When you're behind the wheel you have to focus strictly on driving."
Tremblay said depending on the impact the new law has on drivers, the government may have to take the legislation a step further and ban phones all together.
Other jurisdictions with similar bans include Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, California and New York, according to the Ontario government.
CTV Toronto's Pat Foran reported brisk business for hands-free products at a Future Shop on Kennedy Road on Monday, with much of the stock picked over.
The shelves should be restocked early next week, he said.
He found the cheapest hands-free solution are corded models, which sell for between $10 and $20.
An earpiece model is between $30 and $120, and visor-mounted models can be had for between $100 and $200.
Bluetooth wireless headsets come in all shapes and sizes. You must find the right one for your phone, and a major variable is talk-time length. Some models can run out in less than four hours, and others can last more than 10 hours.
CTV technology columnist Kris Abel said the Motorola H790 is a good starter Bluetooth headset. It sells for $90 and is very user-friendly.
Next step up is the Aliph Jawbone Prime, which offers great sound clarity for $156 and is comfortable.
Abel said families with a lot of drivers may wish to look at speaker boxes, which bring speaker-phone technology to the cab of your vehicle.
The Motorola T325 is very beginner-friendly and has a sensor that knows when the vehicle's door is being opened. It sells for $90.
The BlueAnt SuperTooth 3 has text-to-speech software that can tell you who's calling, he said. It sells for about $160.
With reports from CTV Toronto's Michelle Dube and Pat Foran