Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Ontario bill would ban cellphone use by drivers

with 5 comments

Globe and Mail

Whether or not BC decides to follow Ontario’s example (and I doubt we will given the way Gordon Campbell dumped photo radar) can I use this space to recommend a course of action to my readerrs. Hang up and drive.

Remaining focussed on the task of driving is not something that comes naturally. As our confidence as drivers increases we tend to relax behind the wheel. We certainly lose focus, and it is not at all unusual for people to actually doze off while driving. And there are always distractions, both inside and outside the car, that deflect attention. There are good reasons for thinking that hands free cell phone use is not much safer either. I have certianly noticed that there are many people who are incapable of having a phone conversation without using emphatic hand gestures. So the process of being in a conversation can certainly occupy the whole of our brain at that moment, and make us do quite inappropriate things at that moment.

As for whether the bans actually work, in Newfoundland, statistics show an eight per cent drop in the number of collisions between 2003 and 2005, shortly after the law came into effect.

An eight per cent drop is certainly worth having, but we would much rather argue – and most of it will be droven by “nanny state” arguments. If we were sensible, we would not need a law. We would just not do it – and I will confess I have done it myself. Even though I know that I can always check the voicemail next time I stop. Very few calls really need to be answered instantly.

I have had one collision due to distraction too. My old van had a very dodgy cup holder. My ex-wife had used it as an ashtray, and the foam insert that was supposed to hold the cup was weakened by cigarette burns. I had a tall cup in it when I took a bend a bit quickly and got hot coffee on my legs. Now I know you ae supposed to simply grit your teeth and ignore the pain as best you can under such circumstances – but of course I looked down and drifted into the path of the car beside me. This just produced minor damage to both vehicles and no one was hurt. But the woman whose car I hit was on the phone – even while I was trying to exchange details with her – but mostly trying to persuade her to move her vehicle away from a blind bend. If I had wanted to be litigious (and I don’t now and didn’t then) I could have argued that she was equally responsible. After all, if she had been paying attention, there was room for her to avoid me, or even (perish the thought) slow down a little. She also tried to claim personal injury later – but the claim for “whip lash” neck injury in a collision like that did not stand up to much.

Driving requires all of your attention. Lives are at stake. At higher speeds, the severity of collisions rises exponentially. If you must take or make a call, pull over and stop first. Set a good example, but do not rage impotently at those you see doing stupid things on the road. That is their problem – and your job is to avoid them not seek to punish them. Phones and road rage are not a good combination.

But also try to minimize distractions inside the car, if you can. The people out there who are your main concern are, in any event, not so much other drivers as those without the protection of a steel encased padded cell.


I was driving home this morning when i noticed that the driver of the car behind me was talking on his cell phone. When we pulled up at the traffic light, I looked again and noticed that he was wearing eppaulettes on his shirt, and there was an interesting collection of lights across the top of the widshield, inside the car and normally not visible except in low direct sunlight. It was a very ordinary looking grey Oldsmobile – and this was the sort of policeman who wears a white shirt with lots of pips on his eppauletes. So I drove very carefully ay 78km/hr aloing Highway #17.

It seems very unlikely that Senior Police Officers are keen on a cell phone ban here.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 27, 2008 at 8:58 am

Posted in Road safety

Tagged with

5 Responses

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  1. I’m intrigued that as I write this that 3 people have said car phones shouldn’t be banned. I’d love to hear the reasoning behind this.

    Andy in Germany

    October 28, 2008 at 7:45 am

  2. They should ban all cell phones while driving, not just hand held phones. IMO

    David Banks

    October 28, 2008 at 1:01 pm

  3. I am glad that people think that we should ban cell phones while driving.


    October 29, 2008 at 6:49 am

  4. Before people get behind this supposed “cell phone” ban they should realise additional wording in the legislation could well include “other electronic devices” such as GPS, touch screen climate control, sound and navigation systems, backup and sideview cameras,nfrared and night vision assist systems, ipods, Onstar, and what ever else that is left open to “interpretation” and possible abuse by law enforcement officials and the courts. The wording is vague enough this could easily happen.


    October 31, 2008 at 2:28 pm

  5. If that happens I for one would cheer. Why looking at “back up and sideview cameras” would be considered distraction is beyond me. They are simply electronic versions of mirrors – which most drivers forget they are supposed to check frequently.

    Possible abuse by officials applies to any law – and needs to be subject to its own system of checks and oversight, and is thus beside the point.

    Stephen Rees

    November 1, 2008 at 11:20 am

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