Cellphone ban calls for hands-free solution

A new provincial law in Saskatchewan banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving takes effect Jan. 1.

A new provincial law in Saskatchewan banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving takes effect Jan. 1.

All drivers using hand-held cellphones to talk, text, email or surf the internet will face a $280 fine and receive four demerit points on their licence. Demerit points can make it more expensive for drivers to renew their insurance.

The new cellphone restriction is meant to reduce the number of collisions caused by distracted driving. According to the province, about one in four accidents are caused by distractions.

Experienced drivers will be allowed to use hands-free devices while driving, but people in the graduated driver's licensing program are banned from using any kind of cellphone while driving.

Drivers making emergency 911 calls will be exempt from the new rules.

Even though the new law is not in effect until the new year, Saskatchewan police are already issuing traffic tickets if a person's driving is seen to be unsafe because they're using a phone.

"The best way to handle any call is to safely pull over on the side of the road to answer your phone or let voice-mail pick it up," cabinet minister June Draude said in a release.

Scramble for hands-free

With the new legislation around the corner, electronics stores are seeing a rush of people wanting to buy hands-free phone systems before Friday.

Cheryl Fairbrother, a salesperson at a Regina electronics shop, said Bluetooth headsets and other hands-free phone systems are selling fast. Bluetooth is used for short-distance wireless communication.

"We are stocking them three times a day," said Fairbrother.

Lois Day recently received a hands-free device for her cellphone.

"There is still going to be a huge amount of people that might procrastinate and then know that, maybe, that first ticket they get and the four demerit points on their driver's licence wasn't really worth the price of the Bluetooth."

Hands-free devices range from $40 to $120.

Provincial pioneers

Newfoundland and Labrador became the first province in Canada in 2003 to ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

Kevin O'Brian, the Newfoundland cabinet minister responsible for the legislation, said the law is working.

"In April of 2003 to March 2004, we issued 131 [tickets]," said O'Brian. "In 2008, we issued 677 [tickets]. We've also seen a number of people report other drivers using cellphones while they drive and they've been upheld in court as well."

Quebec, Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia have similar legislation.

O'Brian said the next step is to make federal legislation requiring all cars to have hands-free phone technology, so that people can feel safe on all of Canada's roads.