April 15, 2010
By Darren Rodrigues
Sinclair-Cockburn Financial Group

The Government of Ontario has made amendments to the Highway Traffic Act that bans the use of hand-held devices while operating a motor vehicle. This new law came into effect on Oct. 26, 2009. The penalties for a violation can be fines of up to $500 against drivers who use hand-held wireless communication or electronic entertainment devices while driving. Prohibited activities include texting, dialling or chatting while using a wireless communications device. The law also covers entertainment devices such as mp3 players, laptop computers and DVD players.

What can you use?

There are acceptable ways to use wireless communication and electronic entertainment devices while operating motor vehicles, including:
  • A hands-free wireless communication device, such as an earpiece headset with voice-dialling, or device connected through the vehicle’s sound system.
  • A Global Positioning System (GPS) device that is properly secured to the dashboard, or another accessible location within the vehicle.
  • A portable audio player used in hands-free mode, and connected through the vehicle’s sound system.
  • 9-1-1 in an emergency situation.
  • Viewing a display screen used for collision avoidance systems.
  • Viewing a display screen of an instrument, gauge or system that provides information to the driver about the status of the systems associated with the motor vehicle.

Risk management practices

Good risk management practices dictate that industry members comply with the law and develop sound guidelines for the use of wireless devices while driving. The use of cellular phones, even when using a hands-free device, can be a major source of distraction to drivers. Therefore, organizations should include a policy in their own fleet safety program, on the use of wireless communication devices while operating a motor vehicle or contractor’s equipment. The policy should specify employees only use cellular phones when lawfully parked. If the cellular phone rings while you are driving, allow your voicemail to take the call. Listen to the message later, when parked.

There may be occasions when it is necessary to have hands-free cellular phone conversations while driving. During these unavoidable occasions, you should have a plan in place. Your plan should not just consider compliance with the provincial law, but also reducing driver distractions. Remember, your primary task is to drive your vehicle in a safe manner.

The following should be considered in a communications plan:
  • Use a hands-free device such as a wireless earpiece or headset with your cellular phone.
  • Use a cellular phone that has a voice-dialling feature to eliminate distraction.
  • Cellular phone conversations while driving should be restricted to an absolute minimum.

While driving with a hands-free cellular phone, the following activities should be avoided:
  • Do not use when driving conditions become hazardous due to weather or other factors, especially when you are not familiar with the travel area.
  • Do not use any texting method while driving (email, SMS, MMS, instant messaging, etc.).
  • Do not read text messages sent to you while driving. Most cellular phones and smart phones have the ability to mute received text message notifications.
  • Do not use a cellular phone while operating a moving and/or in-gear motorized construction (contractor) type equipment,
  • Do not take any handwritten notes while driving and talking on your cellular phone.

There are certain operations and personnel that are the exception from the prohibition against hand-held wireless communication devices, while discharging regular duties. For more details, see the Ontario Regulation 366/09 Display Screens and Hand-Held Devices by visiting www.e-laws.gov.on.ca.
Darren Rodrigues may be reached at 416-494-9883, ext. 361, or darren.rodrigues@scfg.ca.