Fine, demerit points for Quebec drivers talking on cellphones

A ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving took effect in Quebec on Tuesday, with offenders facing fines and demerit points if convicted.

Police in Quebec on Tuesday began enforcing a ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving.

The law was passed by the National Assembly last year and came into effect in April. A three-month grace period to familiarize motorists with the new rules expired Monday.

Now, "if a person is seen with a phone, he will be intercepted and will face a fine," provincial police spokesman Marc Butz said.

"You have to have a hands-free system where you don't have to touch the phone while talking," Butz said.

The penalty for being convicted of illegally using a cellphone while driving is a $115 fine and three demerit points.

The penalties will apply even if the drivers are not talking, but are spotted by police with a cellphone in their hands.

The law covers any device that can be used as a cellular telephone and includes hand-held wireless devices such as the BlackBerry.

Ontario ponders ban

Quebec is just the latest province to introduce such legislation.

Nova Scotia has had a ban on the use of hand-held cellphones by drivers since April 1. Penalties, including court costs, are just under $165 for a first offence.

Newfoundland and Labrador was the first province to enact a cellphone law, in 2003, and fines can be as high as $400, plus demerit points.

Ontario is considering legislation to stop drivers from using cellphones, BlackBerry and all other electronic devices while behind the wheel.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has asked his transportation minister to consider legislation, saying he is open to a ban on cellphones and any other electronic devices that can take a driver's eyes off the road.

A private member's bill to ban hand-held cellphones by drivers was also introduced in the Alberta legislature, but Premier Ed Stelmach has spoken out against it.

Pull over and answer calls: safety expert

Jack Smith, president of the Canada Safety Council, has welcomed the Quebec law and said the three-month grace period was enough to alert motorists to the change.

"At some point, something has to be done to focus the attention of the driver back on the driving task," he said in an interview with the Canadian Press.

"If you get a call and you really want to answer it, pull off to the side of the road and find a parking spot somewhere."

Dozens of countries have banned cellphone use by drivers.

Safety campaigners say Canada and the United States are among the last holdouts