MLAs mull cellphone driving ban

Yukon may ban fiddling with phones while driving. The proposed change to Yukon's Motor Vehicles Act would be introduced in the spring, said Highways Minister Archie Lang. Public consultations will be held before then.

Yukon may ban fiddling with phones while driving.

The proposed change to Yukon’s Motor Vehicles Act would be introduced in the spring, said Highways Minister Archie Lang. Public consultations will be held before then.

The ban would probably only apply to the use of handheld cellphones while driving. Drivers would be able to make calls while parked or to take calls using hands-free sets.

The ban would also likely have exemptions for peace officers, ambulance attendants, and anyone reporting an accident.

Seven provinces have already passed similar laws. British Columbia is the most recent, with its law coming into force in the new year.

All of Yukon’s MLAs supported the government proposal, introduced on Tuesday, save for Brad Cathers, the independent MLA for Lake Laberge.

He agreed that a ban on cellphone use while driving in Whitehorse’s downtown is a good idea. But it probably shouldn’t apply to rural residents, he said.

“Personally, I don’t answer my cellphone if I’m driving downtown in traffic,” said Cathers. “If the roads are deserted, I might pick up the phone. Otherwise, I simply ignore it and let voicemail take it.”

Drivers who abruptly pull off the road to answer a call may inadvertently create new risks, said Cathers. He’s heard of this being a problem in Ontario, he said.

And if cellphone use is banned for drivers, Cathers wants to know where the line would be drawn for other electronic devices.

“Does it mean you can no longer use your iPod? If you can’t use your iPod anymore, does it mean you can’t change your radio station or that you can’t change a CD? Where is the limit of such legislation?”

Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell argued the cellphone driving ban should extend across the Yukon.

“I haven’t seen anything in the statistics to say that rural residents are more proficient at driving while distracted than urban residents,” said Mitchell.

He and other Liberals were also happy to claim themselves credit for the idea.

Darius Elias, Liberal MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, proposed over the summer that Yukon adopt a cellphone driving ban.

The Liberals’ Don Inverarity proposed lumping together cellphones with CD players and iPods as prohibited devices. But he wants an exemption for “push to talk” devices, such as HAM radios.

He’s a HAM radio user himself, and he described how he’s used his radio equipment to call ambulances to accidents he’s seen.

Elias called the proposed law a “no-brainer.” He urged MLAs to not wait until Yukon is the last jurisdiction to adopt a cellphone driving ban.

There are limits to common sense, said Elias. When it comes to driving, laws are sometimes required to ensure safe behaviour.

“Using a seatbelt on a voluntary basis was unsuccessful, in spite of proof that seatbelts dramatically reduce injuries and save people’s lives.”

While everyone agreed that cellphones are distractions to drivers, most MLAs also admitted

to making and taking calls behind the wheel.

Elias is one. “I’m probably about 85 to 95 per cent there, changing my behaviour to pull over,” he said.

“I never text. My problem is answering the phone when I see it’s my children phoning me.”

Inverarity once tried to check his voicemail once while driving down the highway, he said.

“Once was enough for me to know … that kind of thing should not be done,” he said.

Lang said it was only “human nature” to check a ringing cellphone while driving to see who is phoning.

Everyone also agreed there’s plenty of equally dangerous driving habits that would be too difficult to legislate against.

“It would be ridiculous to pass a law prohibiting people from eating and driving or talking while driving,” said the Liberals’ Gary McRobb.

“Children are known to be one of the greatest distractions while driving, but I don’t think anyone would suggest that children should not be allowed in a vehicle,” said Cathers.

But drivers need to take more responsibility, said Cathers, by “not putting on lipstick while driving, not reading while driving, not drinking coffee while driving, not combing their hair while driving, et cetera.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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