Ontario reins in handheld devices

ontario province government flagOntario drivers who like to yak and text on handheld cell phones have about six months to cure themselves of the habits.

(Update: The Ontario ban on handheld electronics for drivers went into effect Monday, Oct. 26. This post is about the bill passing.)

The Legislature gave final approval Wednesday to a ban on texting and using handheld devices behind the wheel. Prohibited activities include emailing, watching DVDs, fooling with MP3 players and video gaming.

Drivers may continue to use cell phones if a hands-free device such as a Bluetooth headset
is employed.

“What we’re trying to do is to avoid distractions while people are driving — those distractions being caused, in this case, by electronic devices that are hand-held,” said Transportation Minister Jim Bradle.

Fine would be as much as $500 (CAN). There are no points charged to the license under this law, but drivers who endanger others while using electronic devices could face 6 points and fines up to $1,000.

Premier Dalton McGuinty had opposed the plan, but it gained momentum since introduction last fall. Local media reported that the intent of the handheld device ban is to get the law in place before the onset of winter driving.

The provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador all have adopted bans on driving and using electronic devices.


  1. As a very seasoned professional driver with almost two million miles logged, not including off duty miles, I am more than certain that my experience trumps the studies that are usually loaded to lean one direction or another from the beginning and done by experts in mathematics and not on what ever the subject of the study is about.

    The ability to talk on a hands free device, as opposed to hand held is a major plus. I do not care what anyone says, holding a hand set is very, VERY, much more distracting than talking into a headset. Any driver can pay attention to the road as they talk and treat the conversation as what it is,of secondary importance. Drive, be attentive to your driving, don’t feel that you are being rude by pausing conversation to apply yourself, your attention and your reflexes to your driving as needed.

    Studies have also concluded that the human mind most definitely has the capability to do more at one time than just drive safely. It is very simple to make the driving top priority, but one can also carry a simple conversation if they posses the simple self discipline and rational thinking abilities that we are born with.

    Prioritize, be attentive, shut out the conversation as needed and you will be fine.

    The problem is more about hand held devices and texting or any other kind of input that requires you to take eyes off of the road. It is the eyes and mind that must stay on the road. Is it illegal for one armed or one handed drivers to drive? NO!

    Is it absolutely possible to drive safely and carry a conversation for a sane, responsible individual? YES! Do some people whine about any and every thing? YES? Do governments dream of having more opportunities to get into our personal lives and apply control there? well, DUH!
    The law is about control and revenue as much as it is about safety. I agree that many people are unsafe as they mess around on their phones while driving, these same people are unsafe when they do ANYTHING other than driving — while driving, some people are simply idiots. The DRIVER is the issue, not the phone!!!!!

    When did they quit teaching us to think in school?

    Why do so many people look at everything in such a backward fashion?

  2. People get distracted even talking to their passengers as well.
    They’re driving abilities become overbearing for those right
    behind them. And what if you have to make a call? Those hand-free
    trying to dial a number can be distracting as well. I think people should just pull over and make a call if it’s that necessary and tell family not to expect you to answer the phone right away. That would be the most sensible thing to do. Nobody needs to be talking on a phone while driving. They can’t help guide you like a passenger can if they’re paying attention which they should be.

  3. Just came across a cop today on the highway – jumping from lane to lane – no signals several times – watching for people who may or may not be talking on their cell phones. She kept pulling up beside people to check if they were talking on hand held cell phones or blue tooth. By jumping from first, second and to third lane, and putting on her brakes to come up beside people – she almost caused an accident herself!
    She finally caught someone with a cell phone in their hand and pulled them over.

  4. Next they will ban the use of indicators, windscreen wipers and headlights for fear that remove a finger from the wheel will lessen your driving skill.

  5. These studies about driver distraction provide valuable, yet scant, illumination. Broader studies of task distraction show that it matters a great deal the content of the distraction, as well as group awareness of the cognitive landscape.

    When I sit in the passenger seat–as an experienced driver myself–I’m usually as attentive to traffic and road conditions as the driver. Not having my own set of mirrors is a bit of a handicap, but to offset this, I can perform a 5 second shoulder check and not lose my lane. When the passenger is paying the same attention as the driver, the conversation naturally shapes itself around cognitive load. The driver doesn’t need to signal a pause. Often it’s the passenger who senses the upcoming lane change, and initiates the pause. The passenger can afford to devote considerable mental resources to discourse management. Discourse management is major subfield within linguistics, and not appreciated nearly as much as it should be, to the enrichment of marriage counsellors everywhere.

    What do studies have to say about the limit on how much can be communicated without any detectable loss in driver aptitude? I’d be shocked if anyone has bothered to find out. Who funds that? One might even discover that an astute passenger can, in the best case, function as an anti-distraction. No insurance company wishes to learn this.

    The cognitive burden boils over when the conversational partner falls short of full situational awareness. This can be a child, or a distracted, restless, insistent adult. Worse still if the conversation partner isn’t even in the car: zero shared situational awareness. Even so, if you’re talking to sibling and you’re not at cats and dogs over anything, the required silences during the driving activity will likely manage themselves through long familiarity.

    A hundred times worse, you’re talking to your boss (managing up), a difficult subordinate (managing down), a client you need to impress (on the make), making social commitments you might later regret (double booking), or discussing any social nuance where clout matters (status conscious). Managing our place in the social hierarchy is a full time job for our giant brains. Lucky if we humans don’t fall our tree branch trying to do two things at once. Half the people who come into my coffee shop can’t manage to close the door behind them on a cold October day if they’re yammering with a chum on the way in. Do you want these people out there driving cars? With a phone?

    Definitely many accidents are caused by drivers who are in the wrong conversation at the wrong time. If we’re going to police this at all, the rule needs to be shallow. It’s not the cop’s job to determine if your brain was preening, or not, in a particular exchange of words.

    I think it has to be up to the driver to judge the risk, because a lot of valuable economic activity happens on the road in the transportation and sales industries at very low accident risk. There needs to be painful consequence on judging this risk badly: such as having twice as many points slapped on your license if you get into an accident (regardless of fault) while yammering on the phone. We could also require cars to signal “phone active” with a rooftop warning light, to make it easier for the cops to pull someone over who isn’t driving as well as they think they are. Intrusive? Any idea what’s on your hard disk already watching your every move? I thought not. Trust me, Google knows.

    If it’s the cop’s discretion that bugs you, maybe it’s time to give your jaw a rest already. Do you have nothing at all in your mind to contemplate in solitude? That’s a sad state of affairs. Too many people severed from their mobile phone yowl like someone’s overdependent pet dog leashed outside the coffee shop by the same people who can’t manage to close the door on the way out to their asphalt-coloured tinted-window antenna-laden SUV.

  6. Paul Fortin says:

    But some say that have a conversation with a passenger is ok but is that not a serious distraction if you are in a heated argument that requires you to think about your arguments. If so when will the provincial governments of Canada ban talking to passengers while driving – since this is also a distraction!

  7. I for one would love to see sigarettes banned behind the wheel

  8. Texting at a red light usually results in the light turning green while the texter has no clue and the drivers behind the texter are wondering when that idiot is going to realize what planet he his on.

    I think Ontario’s law is well intentioned, but suffers from one serious problem: It is simply NOT possible to legislate stupidity from the human race. Accountability can be legislated into the law, but stupidity cannot be legislated out of the law.

    Think about it.

  9. Does it matter that accident rates across Canada have been dropping for the last 20 years?
    Or that all provinces already have a law covering driving without due care and attention.
    What a waste of time.

  10. You're exaggerating says:


    You’re over exaggerating the extent of the law. I suggest you read a summary of it, or read the law itself.


    Read the law before you start making stuff up.

  11. Amanda, I think it is better to ban cars on queen st.!

  12. Anyone thinking that using a hands-free phone makes them a good driver is kidding themselves. Study after study, on thousands of people and (literally) millions of miles driven shows that it’s the conversation that’s the problem, not holding the phone.

    And talking on the phone has proven to be a far bigger distraction than things like drinking coffee (which you don’t need to concentrate on to understand)–aside from texting, which is even worse, the only “activity” that had a accident rate that compared to talking on a phone (with or without a hands-free device) was DWI.

  13. David McFarlane says:

    I have seen the psychology research that shows that drivers are equally distracted whether they use a handheld or hands-free phone, so it would seem that the handheld ban misses the point. OTOH, I think that few of the drivers who now use a handheld phone while driving will take the bother to switch to a hands-free phone. So, the ban on handheld devices alone will in fact have the effect of banning almost all cell phone use while driving. That alone will greatly reduce the degree of distracted driving, and in that case the new law achieves the intended effect.

  14. Jan Kalin says:

    @Alex T: It is a proven fact that objective tests show that it does not matter whether you are holding the phone or using hands-free installation. It is the act of talking to someone outside your car that has the serious effect on your attention. You may *think* that is not the case, but it is very likely that are you are an average person and the results also apply to you.

  15. @Amanda

    what you said about cyclists insults me. As a driver you should be aware of your surroundings, bicycles follow the same rules of the road as you, and most people will conform to this. If you failed to be attentive enough to see a cyclist i don’t really think it’s his fault, it’s yours, that reason you have the feeling you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself is guilt. you would be guilty (YOU HIT him after all). Drivers need to pay more attention to the road in general, and this is not an issue with obstacles on the road. this has to do with the persona of the driver. If something scares you on the road, because you think there may be a risk, why are you driving at all? you worrying doesn’t help much, but you taking action against your worry, by paying more attention. and being able to keep track of taxi’s, streetcars, other drivers and cyclists then that’s a job well done.

  16. Mohammed Khawaja says:

    As one person above said that this is a great idea as he uses Bluetooth head piece and he is a much better driver. What he fails to realize is that him taking his hands off the wheel to answer the phone (either phone or bluetooth switch), he is in violation of the law.

    This is a classic case of silly bureaucrats gone all overboard. Maybe police should be targeting them as I have seen lots of idiots heading out of Queens Park checking their BlackBerries while driving.

  17. Johnny Awkward says:

    Alex says: “Then I purchased a bluetooth headset and I drive perfectly while using it.”

    I’m sure you do.

  18. elijah kozak says:

    i think it should be ok to text at a red light but thats not to say it will stop people texting well driving weed is ileagle but people still do their not going to stop everyone from using their mobile divices my point is it wont compeltly salve the problem

  19. Will the new hands free law include, eating, picking your nose, applying make-up, reaching over to babies in the back seat, drinking coffee, and smoking?
    On my way in to work this moring on the bumper to bumper DVP I witnessed each one of these offenses.
    Or will the Police simply park at the end of the Tim Horton’s drive through and pull people over one by one?
    Friday a women was eating a bowl of cereal, actual cereal with milk!
    Not sure that it’s the electronic devices that are the problem but the idiots that use them.
    They should consider banning bicycles on routes such as queen street as well. As a driver it is nearly impossible to watch the pedestrians, street cars, taxi’s alone, then you have a person on a bike that just zooms on by with no concern for the driver that has his/her eye on so many other distractions. If I were to hit one of those cyclists and injure them, I would have to live with that for the rest of my life. How is that fair? Electronic devices are not the problem!

  20. “Their driving skills are somewhat impaired. This manifests itself in a number of ways; driving too slow, slow to proceed on a green light etc, etc. None of these safety concerns are going to be minimized in any way with the ban on holding a cell while driving.”

    -Absoulutely right!!!!
    These are all things that cause ROAD RAGE.
    To the Govt. I say, Here’s dollar…go buy a clue!!!!

  21. I must completely disagree with the other comment. I have noticed myself that holding a phone i become a terrible driver.. Then I purchased a bluetooth headset and I drive perfectly while using it.. It’s just like
    talking to a passenger in the car.. I am really happy that this law is going in effect because so many people that cut me off without even noticing that im there i notice are HOLDING a phone.

  22. Lisa Petersen says:

    Will the ignition interlock devices be effected in this new law. These devices can ask for a breath sample randomly while driving is this not also a distraction.

  23. Clint Trueman says:

    I find the new law prohibiting the use of hand held cell phones while driving entirely misses the point. We have all been subjected to the driver that is on the cell phone while driving. Their driving skills are somewhat impaired. This manifests itself in a number of ways; driving too slow, slow to proceed on a green light etc, etc. None of these safety concerns are going to be minimized in any way with the ban on holding a cell while driving. ITS NOT THE LOSS OF A HAND THAT CAUSES THE PROBLEM, BUT RATHER THE MIND IS FOCUSED ON SOMETHING OTHER THAN DRIVING!!! This seems so obvious to me that I can’t help but wonder if I am missing something with respect to this new law.

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