On April 1, 2008, two new provisions of Quebec’s Highway Safety Code and Regulations came into effect: one regarding excessive speeding and the other imposing a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. While the purpose of the former provision is quite obvious – it calls for harsher penalties for motorists stopped for driving well in excess of posted limits –, the latter may require a few clarifications.
“Hands-Free” Only Law Implemented on April 1, 2008, but Enforced Effective July 1, 2008:
Any use of a hand-held cell phone that does not have a “hands-free” function is now prohibited while driving. Motorists were granted a three-month grace period, during which they only received a warning when arrested for this type of offence, but since July 1, 2008 they have to pay a fine of $115 (including court costs) and have three demerit points added to their driving record.
The Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec also specifies that if you absolutely must use your phone, you must do so from a safe location; i.e., a parking lot, a service area, or on the side of the road as long as the speed limit is 70 km/h or less.
There are no statistics yet regarding how many people are killed or injured as a result of texting or emailing while driving in Quebec. Until recently, local police forces had no space on their accident reports to record anything more specific than “driver distraction.”
But in keeping with advances in mobile phone technology that feed the need to be constantly in touch, even while driving, along with a growing concern among citizens, police have started recording whether texting played a role in accidents. Quebec’s auto insurance board is expected to release results for 2011 early in the next year. And the Canadian Automobile Association is opening a contest for students to create the best short video detailing the hazards of the practice.
In a recent survey by the CAA, 98 per cent of respondents said they found the practice of texting or emailing while driving either a serious or somewhat serious threat, slightly higher than the percentage that said having a few drinks before getting behind the wheel posed a threat.
“It’s because people can see it all around them,” said Philippe St-Pierre, a spokesperson for CAA-Quebec. “They see people at traffic lights typing on their phones, or in traffic jams. They wait behind people who aren’t moving at a green light because they’re on their phones, and it annoys them.”
The number of driving deaths attributed to drinking has dropped thanks to years of education campaigns, St-Pierre said, although alcohol, along with speed, remained the top causes of the 487 fatal traffic accidents in Quebec in 2010. Now it’s time for the dangers of texting while driving to be emphasized in driver training courses, and for laws to be strictly enforced, St-Pierre said.
The dangers have been well documented elsewhere. One study by a Texas university found that 16,000 people were killed as a result of texting while driving in the United States between 2001 and 2007. Another study out of England noted that texting among 17 to 24 year olds increased drivers’ reaction time by 35 per cent. Drivers who were at the legal limit for alcohol consumption of 0.08 showed an increase in reaction time of 12 per cent.
A driver moving at 50 kilometres per hour who spends four seconds sending a text will cover 56 metres, the equivalent of half a soccer field, with his eyes off the road, the CAA notes.
“Young people today are owning smart phones at younger ages, and they feel the need to communicate constantly and continuously with their messaging devices,” said Jeff Walker, vice-president of public affairs with CAA. “They need to understand the danger that exists when they decide to maintain those habits while driving a car.”
This was the language (Bill 42) that prohibited the use of handheld devices in the Province of Quebec:
58. The Highway Safety Code is amended by inserting the following section after section 439:
“439.1. No person may, while driving a road vehicle, use a hand-held device that includes a telephone function. For the purposes of this section, a driver who is holding a hand-held device that includes a telephone function is presumed to be using the device.
This prohibition does not apply to drivers of emergency vehicles in the performance of their duties.”