Inside Queen's Park: Legislating common sense

Newly minted legislation at Queen’s Park is going to have an immediate impact on the legal profession - but not in ways you might think.

Bill 118, which received third reading April 22 and now wends it way to proclamation before becoming law, amends the Highway Traffic Act to “prohibit the use of devices with display screens and hand-held communication and entertainment devices and to amend the Public Vehicles Act with respect to carpool vehicles.”

There are doubtlessly a few practitioners out there who might see this as an opportunity to garner more clients resulting from them being charged with yakking on their mobiles while driving.
But I reckon there are a few lawyers who are going to be ensnared in this legislation before the message really sinks in.

We all know that billables happen any time, anywhere, these days, regardless of whether you’re sitting behind your desk, on your feet in a courtroom, or driving to work. So it’s no surprise many practitioners are welded to their cellphones while commuting, either dictating notes, answering calls from clients and colleagues, or setting up the next day - or that night’s activities - while driving.

If this is you, I have two words: hands free.
In another life I spend my time playing with technology, ruminating on the benefits of Bluetooth 2.0 and WiMAX and arguing the long-term savings of virtualization and Software-as-a-Service, so I know something about this stuff.

It will soon be an offence to drive and “hold” a mobile whether it is in use or not. And that includes checking your e-mail and text messages - let alone answering texts or e-mails.

There are some exceptions: for one, a global positioning system navigation device - though it strangely does not specify the device should be in “audio” mode for turn-by-turn directions while being used. Having one myself I find it not just distracting but dangerous to follow the graphics to provide navigation information so always just follow the audio directions.

Other exceptions include commercial tracking devices, collision avoidance systems, and basic vehicle information displays.

“I think we all recognize that new technologies have created some tremendous conveniences, but they need to be used with caution,” noted Transportation Minister Jim Bradley in the House in presenting the bill for third reading.

“I don’t think there is a person anywhere who hasn’t texted, e-mailed, or talked on the phone while driving, even though we know it is dangerous to do so. Research shows that a person who uses a cellphone while driving is four times more likely to be involved in a collision than if that person were simply focused on the task of driving.”

He said Transport Canada estimates that driver distraction is a contributing factor in approximately 20 per cent of collisions.
“There should be no doubt that those people who do not focus on the task of driving, should in fact not be driving,” he said.

Indeed, having been nearly clipped by a madman engrossed with a cellphone while speeding along Kingston Road a couple of Sundays ago, and almost killed by the lady on the phone who pulled out in front of my motorcycle on Dufferin Street and caused me to swerve into the oncoming lane which was thankfully empty, I’d have to say, it’s a sensible piece of legislation.

From here on in, you’ll need a hands-free device such as a headset or a wireless headset which operates on Bluetooth. They’re relatively cheap and easy to configure and use. If you feel silly looking like a refugee from Star Trek with a high-tech device in your ear, a la Lt. Uhura, another option is a Bluetooth speakerphone arrangement which clips on your visor.

If you’re that addicted to e-mail or text, you’ll also need to subscribe to a service like iLane which will convert your e-mail to voice and allow you to dictate responses - hands free, of course.

Or, you could just buy a Ford SYNC system which uses Bluetooth to turn the car’s interior into a hands-free phone system. It will recognize voice commands such as “call the office” and will even play songs on command pulled from your smartphone’s memory if you’re so inclined.

In the absence of such hands-free technology, your options are to pull over to the side of the road or park before you dial. There are some other exceptions if you’re stuck in traffic and not moving or if you’re calling 911 for emergency assistance. Calling 411 doesn’t count, by the way.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t specify some of the other madness we’ve seen such as application of lipstick and mascara on the 401 westbound, reading the morning newspaper on the Don Valley Parkway southbound, the strange and growing practice of having a lap dog - not laptop - occupy the driver’s lap and hang out the window, and other such automobile anomalies.

The scary thing, of course, is that we’re forced into legislating what should be common sense.

Ian Harvey has been a journalist for 32 years writing about a diverse range of issues including legal and political affairs. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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