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Ontario law banning use of handheld devices while driving takes effect

[JURIST] An Ontario law [text] banning the use of handheld devices while driving took effect [press release] Monday, outlawing text messaging and talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel. The ban makes it illegal to use any handheld wireless communication devices but also extends to any device with a screen that can take the driver's eye off the road, including laptops and portable DVD players. Popular devices like iPods and GPSs are still legal as long as they are mounted to the dashboard. There are also exceptions for emergency workers and for all calls to 911. The new law will impose a CAN $500 fine [press release] after a three-month education period that ends on February 1, 2010.

Ontario joins other jurisdictions in Canada and the US to pass similar bans including Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, California, and New York. Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama signed [JURIST report] an executive order [text] making it illegal for federal employees or government contractors to use text messaging while driving. A 2006 study [study] by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute [official website] found that drivers who are dialing a handheld phone are 2.8 times more likely to get into a crash or near crash. Still, some have criticized bans on using technology while driving. Dave McCurdy, CEO of the Auto Alliance [advocacy website], an automobile industry advocacy group, cautioned [Huffington Post op-ed] that increasing restrictions on technology use in automobiles may cross a threshold and hinder more than help. But the Auto Alliance's official position [press release] supports legislation that bans text messaging while driving.

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