Canada

Cellphone ban begins for Ontario drivers

An Ontario law came into effect Monday making it illegal for drivers to use hand-held cellphones, BlackBerrys and other electronic devices while behind the wheel.

An Ontario law came into effect Monday making it illegal for drivers to use hand-held cellphones, BlackBerrys and other electronic devices while behind the wheel.

Drivers are forbidden to use hand-held devices to talk, text or email while behind the wheel, or to use portable video games or DVD players.

The only exception to the ban is a 911 call.

"This law is about keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel," Transportation Minister Jim Bradley said at a news conference in Toronto Monday. "We need to prevent these unnecessary road accidents and I believe this law will do just that."

Hands-free cellphones remain legal, and global positioning systems are allowed if they're secured to the dashboard.

The Ministry of Transport said the ban is needed because driver distraction is a factor in 20 per cent of all road accidents. Bradley said one U.S. study found texting boosted the risk of a collision 23 times.

Starting Feb. 1, drivers could face fines of up to $500 if they're caught violating the ban. There are no demerit points attached to the law.

'Positive step forward'

Toronto police Insp. Gary Meisner, speaking on behalf of Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said Monday that police are looking forward to the legislation, which he described as "a positive step forward and an important one for improving public safety."

Police will be warning motorists for the first three months to stay off the phone instead of handing out tickets. But drivers can still be charged under existing dangerous or careless driving laws, which have fines of up to $1,000, six demerit points, a driver's licence suspension and possible jail time.

A survey released in September showed that about 92 per cent of Ontario drivers intended to obey the law.

Newfoundland and Labrador became the first province to ban the use of hand-held cellphones in 2003, while Quebec and Nova Scotia both moved earlier this year to stop drivers from using hand-held cellphones. Similar legislation has also been introduced in British Columbia.

Saskatchewan and Alberta have also announced their intentions to table similar legislation this fall.

More than 50 countries and jurisdictions around the world have banned cellphone use while driving.

With files from The Canadian Press

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