Cell Phone Bans in Canada

Many U.S. states ban the use of hand-held cell phones while operating a motor vehicle. And recently a set of leaked research revealed that the U.S. Department of Transportation was leaning towards recommending a full ban federally 6 years ago.

So what’s the legal landscape in Canada look like?

First, from Transport Canada, some light, fluffy recommendations (Cell Phones and Driving – Safety Tip):

  • Turn the phone off before you start driving. Let callers leave a message.
  • If there are passengers in the vehicle, let one of them take or make the call. If you’re expecting an important call, let someone else drive.
  • If you have to make or receive a call, look for a safe opportunity to pull over and park.

The agency has done very little research into the matter, having simply patched on a brief observational study of in-vehicle cell phone use to a couple of seat belt studies back in 2006 and 2007 (Observational Survey of Cell Phone use by Drivers of Light Duty Vehicles 2006 – 2007).

And the results of this study are questionable. Transport Canada concluded that an average of 5.5% of Canadian use a cell phone while driving. But a recent IPSOS Reid study had a full 52% of drivers admitting to this behaviour.

The following provinces in Canada currently have restrictions on the use of handheld mobile phones while operating a motor vehicle:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador (2003);
  • Quebec (2008)
  • Nova Scotia (2008)
  • Ontario (September 2009)

Manitoba is currently considering a ban, and British Columbia is considering a full ban on operation of any device in a motor vehicle, handheld or hands-free.

Other jurisdictions such as Alberta and Prince Edward Island consider existing unsafe-driving legislation sufficient to cover the use of devices in motor vehicles. I tend to agree with that as device-specific bans haven’t been proven to be any more effective than existing laws.

In fact, the ban in North Carolina saw cell phone use increase in teens operating motor vehicles following its introduction, despite the fact that a vast majority admitted to being aware of the law. And in Transport Canada’s observational study, use of mobile phones in Newfoundland and Labrador wasn’t particularly lower than most other regions of Canada.

In my opinion, Saskatchewan is tackling the issue most effectively by running a large ad campaign to educate drivers about the risks of operating a motor vehicle while distracted.