The Ontario government tabled legislation that will ban text messaging and emailing while driving and force motorists to use hands-free, voice-activated equipment when making calls on their cellphones.

"We know these new technologies have created some tremendous conveniences," Transportation Minister told reporters on Tuesday. "But we know something else. Deep down, we all know it is dangerous to use them while driving."

Here's what is banned:

  • cellphones, even at a stop light
  • dialing
  • BlackBerrys
  • texting
  • hand-held GPS

The OPP said it will start enforcing the new rules as soon as the government passes the legislation. If caught by police, drivers will face fines of at least $500 and demerit points.

"There are collisions attributable to it, and some fatalities. So it is a huge concern," said OPP Deputy Commissioner Larry Beechey.

"We've all had near-misses. I'm just as guilty as anyone else. Hands-free or not, talking on the phone is cognitively distracting," said Dr. Suzanne Strasberg of the Ontario Medical Association.

The Liberal government consulted police and the Insurance Bureau of Canada before drafting the legislation, Bradley said. He also brought a driving simulator to the news conference to demonstrate how distracting a cellphone can be.

The bill will first go to committee to be tweaked, but could become the law in a matter of months.

Newfoundland, Quebec and Nova Scotia have all recently introduced new guidelines to prevent drivers from using hand-held devices, while the governments of Manitoba and Prince Edward Island are considering similar legislation.

Cellphone bans for drivers are already in place in about 50 countries, including Australia, China, France, Kenya and Slovenia.

Contrary view

Despite the growing popularity of cellphone bans for motorists, the Canada Safety Council opposes the proposed new legislation.

Spokesman Emile Therien acknowledged Tuesday that talking on the phone is a distraction while driving.

However, he argued that most cellphone users would not comply with the law, which would in turn make it hard for police to enforce.

"I think it's just a case of feel-good legislation," Therien said during an interview on CTV Newsnet. "It makes people feel good but it really doesn't deliver tangible safety benefits."

Therien said that reckless drivers can already be charged and face fines and demerit points under the Highway Traffic Safety Act.

Therien also said a public awareness campaign would best inform motorists of the potential dangers of talking and texting while driving.

While nine-in-10 Canadian drivers don't approve of using a cellphone behind the wheel, more than half of them admit to using one while driving, according to a RBC Insurance/Ipsos Reid survey released this week.

In anticipation of widespread bans of electronic devices for drivers, North American car manufacturers are already building hands-free technologies right into new models.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss and files from The Canadian Press