Ontario to ban cellphone use while driving

Ontario's Liberal government introduced legislation on Tuesday to restrict the use of cellphones, BlackBerrys and other electronic devices by drivers.

Drivers in Ontario could be fined as much as $500 if they're caught using their cellphones under a proposed new law.

Transportation Minister Jim Bradley's new legislation calls for a ban on the use of hand-held devices to talk, e-mail or send text messages while driving.

The ban wouldn't affect the use of hands-free devices or 911 calls, but includes portable video games and DVDs.

Global positioning systems will be allowed, as long as they're properly secured to the dashboard.

There are no demerit points attached to the bill, but drivers who place others at risk by using one of the banned devices can also be charged under the existing careless driving laws.

They could face fines of up to $1,000, six demerit points, a driver's licence suspension and even jail time.

Legislation similar to this was introduced for the first time nearly 10 years ago by Progressive Conservative MPP John O'Toole. He thinks the government's legislation should take a softer approach, pushing education over punishment.

"On first offences, what they should do is require them to take some kind of course on driver distraction to show them in these lab things how you are 25 per cent more likely to be in an accident if you're involved with technology. So I would start that way, don't start with the hammer, start with the educational piece, I think that's the important part." said O'Toole.

The ministry says the ban is needed because driver distraction is a factor in 20 per cent of all accidents.

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.

The Ontario Medical Association is on record saying speaking on a phone while driving puts people at "a significantly greater risk" of getting in an accident, and warns that using hands-free devices doesn't really lower that risk.