Jim Kenzie has been quite vociferous in his opposition to the new hand-held device law in Ontario.
I agree with him that hands free or not is largely irrelevant in terms of overall driver distraction. However, two hands on the wheel is better than one. Also, I initially thought the law was not a complete loss. Ever since its announcement I have attempted (with varying levels of success) to completely ignore my blackberry while driving. Hands free devices are a pain to use, the cord gets wrapped around my arm or hand (definitely not safe) and the cordless blue-tooth ear pieces are uncomfortable and a pain to keep charged. I've discarded their use as impractical. So now, I will ignore my cell phone when driving. Which is what Jim has been arguing for all along. So I thought the law had the potential to encourage safer driving, even though it wasn't perfect.
I've since changed my mind. The law is a little bit ridiculous, actually a lot ridiculous.
...in the case of GPS devices, drivers must program and activate their GPS before starting their trip, and not touch the device while driving. MP3 players must not be handled while driving and should only be operated through the vehicle's entertainment system controls.
I'm sorry, but our GPS sometimes necessitates touching while driving. Specifically the DETOUR button. When you come up to a situation where the road is closed, you press the detour button and the GPS will search for an alternate route. I think pressing the button and knowing where to go is much better than making random last minute turns and getting distracted and frantic in an unfamiliar city. Being calm and in control is essential in maintaining a safe driving technique.
Also, how is using an MP3 device or touching a GPS momentarily different than, oh say, changing a radio preset (which you are allowed to do), adjusting HVAC controls, blowing your nose and hundreds of other little activities that momentarily cause you to take your eyes off the road? Remotely controlling an MP3 player through the built-in controls in the vehicle rather than the MP3 player itself (when properly mounted) is a distinction without a difference. If its against the law to be momentarily distracted, make that the law.
The law should be designed around common sense. If you're fumbling with a CD for several minutes, that should have the same penalty as messing with the controls on an MP3 player for too long. As it stands, you can fumble with a CD and jewel case for as long as you want, but don't touch that MP3 player!
Driver awareness and safe operation of a motor vehicle is a major issue on our roads. From my perspective, a more general set of rules governing driver awareness would be more consistent than governing which button I'm allowed to look at and touch. Hell, that rule is already on the books.
Every person is guilty of the offence of driving carelessly who drives a vehicle or street car on a highway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway and on conviction is liable to a fine of not less than $400 and not more than $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both, and in addition his or her licence or permit may be suspended for a period of not more than two years.
This hand-held device ban is another case of less is more. Being too specific in law leaves loopholes and bizarre contradictions. If due care and attention is required, enforce it!