Tuesday, January 05, 2010

New BC Cellphone Rules Explained

VICTORIA More and more today, we live in a society that has turned us all into multi-taskers, thanks largely to technological advancements over the last decade. As a result, it is hard to imagine how we ever managed without a cellphone or other personal electronic device to keep us in constant contact with everyone around us - often while we're trying to do something else at the same time.

Yet, studies show we actually become less effective when our attention is distracted by multi-tasking. And, when we are juggling other tasks like texting or talking, with something requiring our undivided attention - like driving - it can be downright dangerous.

That is why new rules for cellphone use and other electronic devices while driving came into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. Only hands-free cellphones and devices that require one touch to activate or a quick glance are now permitted. In addition, younger drivers in the Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) face a further restriction. They are prohibited from using even hands-free cellphones.

The fine amount is $167. However, if drivers are caught texting or emailing they will earn themselves three penalty points on top of the fine. Drivers in GLP will automatically receive the fine and three penalty points for any violation.

Some people might think that government brought in this new law because it’s what other provinces and jurisdictions are doing. That is far from the case. First of all, years of extensive research and studies were reviewed and the findings were clear. One in four accidents is caused by distracted driving. On average, 117 people are killed and 1,400 are seriously injured every year because they failed to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel

Interestingly, when we consulted with the public on this issue, many respondents admitted to using their cellphone while driving, and yet fully supported a ban. Others implored government to bring in changes, having witnessed or experienced a near-miss or crash themselves.

And yet, despite years of media reports here and elsewhere chronicling the dangers and devastation of distracted driving, you know as well as I do that people are still doing it. We brought in this legislation for those reasons, but the number-one reason was crashes due to distracted driving are all easily preventable.

Unfortunately, it appears many people haven’t changed their habits since we introduced the new rules this past fall. ICBC conducted an informal survey recently during the morning rush-hour in Vancouver. Within a period of 30 minutes at one intersection, 116 drivers were spotted talking on a hand-held cellphone.

Over the next few weeks, you will notice newspaper ads reminding all British Columbians of the new rules, as part of an extensive advertising campaign that government and ICBC are launching. While the focus of this new law is on cellphones and other electronic devices, my hope is that people will think twice from now on about changing their other dangerous distracted driving behaviours - like fiddling with the radio, rummaging through a bag to find something, eating, or changing a CD in the stereo. These things only take a second to do, but that’s all the time it takes to get into a crash that could be life-altering for you or others. Ask yourself if focusing your attention on anything other than the road is really that important.

At the end of the day, government's decision to make B.C. roads safer was an easy call. It is my hope that, over the holiday season, people sat down with their family, as I did with mine, and made a new resolution to not talk or text while driving, so that in the years to come, we will all be safer on the road.


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