OPINION - Banning Hands Free Cellphone Use While Driving

No PhonePaul Hergott of Hergott Law in Kelowna is a very active road safety advocate. His firm specializes in personal injury services exclusively so Paul has extensive experience dealing with the aftermath of collisions. Based on that experience, he has decided to focus on the law that prohibits cell phone use while driving only if the phone is being held in your hand. It sends the dangerous message to drivers that “It’s perfectly ok, and safe, to chat away on a cell phone while driving as long as you are on Bluetooth or using other hands free technology”.

1. PROPOSITION: Cell phone use while driving is dangerous - it’s relatively easy to get people on board for that proposition;

2. PROPOSITION: Hands free cell phone use causes the same level of distraction as hand held – that’s the HARD ONE;

3. PROPOSITION: By banning HAND HELD cell phone use while driving, as of January 1, 2010, and leaving the HANDS FREE version perfectly legal, we:

a. Are TEACHING drivers that hands free cell phone use is SAFE;

b. Are doing NOTHING to discourage hands free cell phone use;

c. Are simply pushing people to spend the money on hands free technology;

d. Are OVERALL causing cell phone use while driving to INCREASE instead of decrease.

4. PROPOSITION: By significantly raising the penalties for HAND HELD cell phone use as of June 1, 2016, we have EMPHASIZED/EXACERBATED the impact of Proposition No. 3.

5. PROPOSITION: By ENFORCING the HAND HELD BAN to ANY DEGREE we are continuing to EMPHASIZE/EXACERBATE the impact of Proposition No. 3.

SO….Proposition 2….is hands free cell phone use just as distracting as hands free?

Before passing the law to ban ONLY HAND HELD cell phone use, the British Columbia government did a survey of the SCIENCE. That survey is set out in this paper published by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles. In that paper:

1. They acknowledged that the science supported Proposition 2. See on page 3: “Evidence also concludes that there is no difference between the cognitive diversion associated with hands-free and hand-held cell phone use.”; and

2. Specifically raised the RISK of Proposition 3. See on page 18: “Legislation that bans only hand-held cell conversations conflicts with the research that has consistently found no difference in the degree of distraction between hand-held and hands-free cell conversations. As a result, these laws may not provide the expected benefits and may even generate harmful indirect impacts such as a false sense of security for those who talk on hands-free devices while driving.”

How to best understand the science? There is this wonderful “White Paper” put out by the United States National Safety Council. I ask you to please take the time to read that paper. It is REALLY interesting stuff.

The law has to change to ban all cell phone use while driving. I’ve started an on line petition at Change.org asking the B.C. Governement to implement that ban.



I can't disagree with this at all.  But indeed, it is only part of the problem that manifests itself as "distracted" driving.  But it is typical of our legislators writing rules and laws half way.  And, in many cases, using ambiguous language.  Perhaps this is because laws and rules are written by Lawyers ans Lawyers profit from ambiguity. Nah .... Lawyers are too honest for that!

But really, the major problem that has been growing for years is driving while being distracted and/or impaired. Distractions come in all forms from the relatively innocuous, like a quick glance at a shapely woman or a bit of a day dream, to probably the most invasive of all .... texting.  Impairment is not just drugs or alcohol, it can be anything that causes less than 100% attention to what you are doing.  Sleep deprivation, tending kids in the back seat, conversations .... you name it, they ALL impair your abilities.

But again, the cell phone or more correctly the "Smart" phone is probably the worst of all.  Even distracted walking has proven fatal. And so far, monetary penalties have simply not worked.  

Let's also wonder why police and other "first responders" were exempted from this legislation.  Are they some kind of "super human" that have talents not afforded to the rest of us?  I know a few but none who fall into a "super human" category.  Let's remember the Ambulace driver on a cell conversation, so distracted that she never realised why a Train Engineer was blowing the horn because she was stopped with her tail on the tracks.  Her distraction killed the patient and injured her co-worker.  But she was exempted because she was a "First Responder" .... on her personal cell phone .... on a personal call.

Another example of poorly written laws:  How about Day Time Running Lights that failed to require the Tail lights to be lit too!


Distractions also include all the new gadgets on the dashboards of newer cars. Music systems, GPS, cameras. The problem is when we only focus on one thing (cell phones). The solution - we definitely have the technology to create out of range reception in cars. Also technology that does not allow gadgets to work /change unless stopped. We put the onus on drivers and some will never comply and will never get caught. Others get hefty fines for using these devices  for work (taxi drivers and trades people).  I don't know the answer but it opens up the question of fairness and justice. So by blocking the use through technology all we be fair. 

Except ...

... there's no good reason why passengers shouldn't be able to use their mobile phones, so blocking technology isn't the answer.

All devices OFF for all

All devices OFF for all passengers & driver.  That's a good reason.  Drivers are distracted by other cell users in the vehicle via speaker or just plain "listening" to the conversation or usage (games, internet etc).  Turn it off!  Turn them ALL off!  Just like drunk drivers, you wouldn't let them drive your vehicle, would you?  Society functions just fine without your cell with you at all times.  Not that long ago, amazingl, we all had landlines with answering machines.  I leave mine at home, just like the landline. And on the occasional times I do take it.  It's off in the vehicle! 

Distracted driving

Distractions come in many forms, and I agree that the increasing complexity of vehicle electronic interfaces is not helping . The currect law is a blunt instrument that may catch some of the worst distractions such as texting. but arguably also catches some of the what-might-not-be-quite-as-bad distractions like talking on a handlheld phone, which we learn isn't much worse than talking hands-free. To expect the law to be able to deal with the issue properly is unrealistic. My experience driving a trolleybus through downtown Vancouver traffic with overhead wire switches and oblivious pedestrians has taught me things like asking the anxious passenger standing at the front to hold their questions until we approach the next stop as I need to concentrate on driving, ignoring calls from dispatch until safe to answer, etc.. This approach is also valid when you are driving in your car and your passenger asks for your full attention. We need to educate drivers that concentrating on driving has a much higher priority than discussions, radio station selection, GPS instructions, and phone calls. It's hard to think of a law that could do all this and easilly be enforced.

Distracted Driving

In terms of distracted driving, I totally agree with banning hand held divices, especially texting while driving.  However, there really is no difference between a bluetooth in-coming phone call and a passenger.  If you are going to ban bluetooth type devices, then you need to ban radios and cd players, as well as passengers and anything else that can be distracting to the driving.  Drivers should never be allowed to eat or drink while driving.  It all gets really complicated and cannot be addressed by laws.  Drivers have to be responsible for their behaviour.  I don't make calls while I'm driving, however, I receive calls on my bluetooth device.  I make them brief - like when I'm arriving, etc.  I value being able to be contacted in this way for a variety of reasons - connection to our daughter, emergencies at home while we're away, etc.  So, I would not be in favour of a ban on in-car connection of devices.  But drivers must be aware of what is going on around them all the time - it's our responsibility, no matter what is happening in the car.

Are you willing to change your mind?

The most important fact to take away from the NSC paper quoted is:

"All of these studies show handsfree phones offer no safety benefit when driving (Appendix A)... The cognitive distraction from paying attention to conversation – from listening and responding to a disembodied voice – contributes to numerous driving impairments."

The cognitive impairment from having a conversation with a "disembodied voice" has been shown to be unique, i.e. not at all like other distractions a driver must deal with, and worse than moderate drinking.

After reading this paper, are you willing to change your mind and put safety ahead of your need to "be contacted"?

Author of "Letters to a Driving Nation: Exploring the Conflict between Drivers and Cyclists." www.brucebutler.ca

Full agreement

The BC government did the public a serious dis-service by allowing hands-free cell phone use while banning hand-helds.

The science is clear: there is no difference in the level of cognitive impairment. The government should accept this proposition and implement this change.

Author of "Letters to a Driving Nation: Exploring the Conflict between Drivers and Cyclists." www.brucebutler.ca

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