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Clearing up cellphone confusion

Ivana Pelisek | Interrobang | News | November 10th, 2008

The risks are high yet there is no proof on whether or not hand-held devices are the leading cause of accidents on our roads today.

Drivers are more increasingly using wireless devices everywhere over the globe.

According to Transport Ontario 2000, 27 per cent U.S. states have introduced but not passed legislation on banning cellphone devices while driving. Internationally, 14 countries prohibit or have placed restrictions on the use of wireless telephones by drivers.

Research points to the need for strong measures, yet the Ontario Government has yet to ban talking on cellphones or the use of handheld devices while driving.

Transport 2000 Ontario calls for an outright ban on all wireless devices used by drivers, whether hand-held or hands-free. Exceptions should be made for dispatch radios used in official vehicles such as police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks for obvious reasons of urgency as well as the fact that they have excellent safety records.

The leading cause of accidents has not yet been determined, and it is now that Ontario is pursuing having a ban on cellphone usage while operating a vehicle.

“Cellphones are clearly a distraction but we don't know yet how many crashes drivers using cellphone cause. The research is pointing toward the conversation itself being a major part of the distraction,” said Russ Rader, a Director of Communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Whether you are a person who uses their cellphone for texting, emailing or simply chatting, you may soon have to wait until the motor of your vehicle is turned off and then proceed with using your cellphone.

Ontario is proposing a new cellphone ban that will urge motorists to think twice before making or receiving phone calls while driving.

“There is no difference between hands-free and hands-held cellphones when it comes to cognitive distraction,” stated the Ontario Medical Association.

Drivers in Ontario could be fined up to $500 if they are using their phones under the new proposed ban.

The ban will not affect emergency calls such as 911 or using a hands-free device, but will include the use of portable video games and watching DVDs.

According to Ontario's new proposed ban, motorists who change tunes on their hand-held ipods or MP3 players at the wheel face fines of up to $500 under Ontario's proposed “new distracted driving” law.

According to Arnold Lewis Glass, a Psychology Professor at Rutgers University in Piscataway New Jersey, cellphones are one of several causes for accidents. Experimental research shows that talking on cellphones slows reaction time by about the same amount as alcohol.

Transport 2000 indicates that on January 15, 2008 witnesses in Mississauga saw a driver speed through a red light while talking on a telephone. This crash injured four people leaving two in serious condition.

Just last year a two-year-old child living in Pennsylvania sustained fatal head injuries in a broadside collision that was caused by a driver entering an intersection while dialing on a wireless phone.

The need for drivers to concentrate on nothing but driving when behind the wheel is to be implemented and if successful, “the numbers of accidents should go down. At a minimum, the number of accidents will not increase,” said Glass.

The ban needs to be enforced in a way that will be carried out by every driver, or it will not have full-anticipated effects.

“One major problem is enforcement. If drivers don't perceive a high likelihood that they will be ticketed, they're not likely to put down their phones and the laws will have little effect. We found this in New York. This was the first state to pass hand-held cellphone ban and when the ban was first enacted, use of cellphones dropped by 50 per cent,” said Rader. “After one-year, when the publicity died down, hand-held use went right back up to where it was before. Behaviours did not change because they did not believe there was a lot of enforcement going on.”

Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec have already banned hand-held cellphones for all drivers, but still allow the use of hands-free devices. Ontario on the other hand wants to go further and ban all electronic devices used by motorists.

“If enforced, it should be successful,” added Glass.
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