Newfoundland bans cellphones while driving

Newfoundland has banned the use of cellphoens while driving.

Newfoundland and Labrador has become the first province to officially ban talking on a cellphone while driving.

The provincial government says talking on a cellphone is just one distraction too many for drivers. The minister responsible for bringing in the new law says he was merely listening to his constituents.

"We did opinion polls. One opinion poll we did indicated that 95 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador (residents) feel that something needs to be done (to restrict) the use of cellphones by drivers," said Walter Noel, the minister of government services and lands.

The fine for ignoring the new law will be stiff: $185 plus the loss of four points.

Newfoundland may be the first province to pass such legislation, but the idea is gathering steam elsewhere.

More than 30 countries have already enacted laws that ban talking on the phone while driving. Several provinces, including Ontario and Nova Scotia, are headed in the same direction.

"It's an issue that's got a lot of attention. Cellphones are highly visible," said Peter Barnes of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

But Barnes would rather see educational campaigns than see legislation. "You're focusing resources on part of the problem rather than dealing with the whole issue, which is driver distraction," he said.

Dr. Don Redelmeier, who has studied cellphone safety, says education campaigns just don't work. They didn't with seat-belts media campaigns convinced only 30 per cent of Canadians to buckle up.

"After the enactment of seat-belt laws in Canada, adherence went up to 80 per cent, so regulations plus education seem to be much more powerful than education alone," he said.

The legislation may have passed, but Newfoundlanders will be given a three-month grace period. Time for people to buy hands-free technology.