Talk and drive? More governments ban handheld phone use in vehicles

Your new mobile phone's got everything you need: email, address book, calendar and web browser. You can even Twitter what you are doing right this second...like getting a ticket for using your device while driving.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor

You just finished buying a new cell / mobile phone and it's got everything you need in one neat little gadget. Your email, address book and calendar. It has your presentation, web browser and of course the ability to twitter what you are doing right this second...like getting a ticket for using it while driving down the road.

It's now law. The government of Ontario has banned operating handheld devices while driving any motor vehicle on public roads. There are exceptions made for public safety and other government agencies. But these are exceptions. You can still talk and drive, providing you are not actually holding the device. Blue-tooth enabled phones or headsets are allowed. Fixed devices to dashboards are allowed, such as GPS units. The law will be enforced in all jurisdictions with warning tickets for approximately 30 days prior to fines being issued.

The Ontario Provincial Police is warning people publicly that if caught driving while holding and talking on a cell phone a fine could be just the start of your problems. If during an accident investigation it's determined that driving while talking on a cell phone is a contributing factor to the accident, existing laws and fines may expose the driver causing the accident, fines to be levied at the maximum rate and driver points assessed at the maximum allowed under law.

Included in this new ban is generations-old technology --  CB radios, the mainstay of truckers for decades. The ban will be phased in over three years for some industries to allow transition time for adopting hands-free driving technologies to replace existing radios.

British Columbia has just finished tabling legislation to do the same thing. Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Quebec already have similar laws in place. Alberta plans to do so shortly. It can't be too far long before the rest of the provinces follow suit.

In the U.S., 6 states, including California, have banned it, but very few apparently have plans to create such a law. Countries around the world that do include Australia, France and the United Kingdom. Fines vary and consequences vary from very low for the first offense, all the way up to 2000 Euro's or two weeks in jail in the Netherlands. In Russia it was decided not by the government, but by the Prime Minister himself in 2001.

I remember 15 years ago while taking the E-train in New York, the noise inside the train was worse than the noise from outside with everyone on a cell phone yapping. Now it's utterly quiet with everyone either browsing, twittering or updating on their smart phone. When I got my first BlackBerry I just had to laugh more than a few times when I brought it to travel from Vancouver to Paris. A long journey indeed. Everyone crammed to get stuff done before boarding knowing that they would have to be shut off soon. 10 hours later, everyone somewhat grouchy, as soon as the whine of the engines began to dull, the BlackBerry race was on... to heck with worrying about the overhead luggage and standing up, everyone needed to get their fix and connect.

As WiFi becomes a standard option on smart phones and aircraft have them installed in mass production,  the addiction fix upon landing should ease. Boeing's Connexion service was too expensive ($27 for the duration of the flight) and Lufthansa pulled it off the 'air' in 2006. Next year in conjunction with Panasonic it will be re-introduced on Lufthansa long haul flights.

Already on trains in some countries like Via Rail in Canada, I wonder how long it will be until someone figures out a solution for the car and yet keep it away from the driver. Since most moving map GPS systems are exempt from the law, those too will soon have Internet and cell phone add-on. So you will put it on the dash, be right back where we started and you will crash yourself into another car, watch it being posted on ZDNET by another connected smart phone and viewed from a Lufthansa B-777 or Via train, all in a microsecond and be in jail the same day for two weeks.

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