B.C. cellphone ban for drivers contradicts research on hands-free devices

Starting on New Year’s Day (January 1), British Columbians won’t be allowed to talk or text on a handheld device while driving.

The provincial ban applies to cellphones, personal digital assistants, portable game consoles, and other handheld electronic devices, but doesn’t prohibit the use of hands-free devices.

That’s despite the B.C. government's own discussion paper showing that research has found “no difference between the cognitive diversion associated with hands-free and hand-held cell phone use”.

Released in June as part of the government's consultation on distracted driving, the paper from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Addressing the Problem of Distracted Driving and its Impacts to Road Safety, states:

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.

The discussion paper also refers to a 2004 University of Calgary-led research analysis that compared the impact of handheld cellphones and hands-free models. As the paper summarizes:

The UofC report revealed there is little or no public safety benefit to hands-free cell phone use. While some voice recognition systems may help to mitigate the distraction associated with actual dialling, once the conversation has begun there is no difference between a hands-free cell conversation and a hand-held cell conversation.

The B.C. government has posted a backgrounder detailing what is and isn’t permitted under the new law.

Unless they are in the graduated licensing program, drivers can use hands-free cellphones that require just one touch to make a call.

Drivers will still be permitted to use handheld devices while legally parked.

After February 1, violators of the ban will face a $167 fine.

Drivers caught texting or e-mailing may also be assigned three penalty points.

You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.



fabio -doncletus-

Dec 30, 2009 at 2:08pm

In Europe we got so used to it that when I came to B.C. last summer I was surprised to see that speaking at the phone while driving was allowed. I don't think that forbidding it is that bad: I've never perceived this "false sense of security" while using headphones, whereas it's true that movements are more difficult if you have a device in one hand (especially if you have 5-speed transmission). If someone's calling, you just stop and answer the phone, not big deal. For the record, the fine here is more or less like yours: 150 euros and 5 penalty points.


Dec 30, 2009 at 8:27pm

Very good article. And there is quite a bit more published research than mentioned by the author that demonstrates unequivocally that use of a "hands-free" phone does little to reduce the danger of driving while talking on a phone. Dozens of studies conducted over the past decade and published in some of the most rigorous science and medical journals clearly show this. It is not the "holding of the phone" that causes attentional overload. It is the cognitive processing involved in the conversation on the phone that leads to dangerously divided attention while driving. The new law is good first step. But it is just that ... a first step ... a half measure. The law won't effectively reduce the danger of driving while talking on the phone until the government finds the political will to also ban "hands-free" phone calls while driving. Their own discussion paper says exactly that, so they know what should be done. But will they?


Dec 31, 2009 at 8:59am

The REAL reason BC gov't "banned" cel phone use is to force cel phone drivers to buy the "hands free" gadgets for a couple of hundred bucks a crack.


Dec 31, 2009 at 9:45am

Okay no phone, no problem (I don't happen to have a cell phone), but what about a CB or other band/frequency of radio, or eating, drinking and spilling, lighting up a smoke, dropping a smoke in your lap, talking to someone in the passenger's seat or in the back seat, tuning the radio, searching for a cd and inserting it into the player, reading a map, reading bill boards, reading anything, playing with the GPS, flossing, applying make up, writing a note to self, buckling up while on the move, adjusting mirrors, adjustiing heat/ac, driving while exhausted...

There are so many more distractions for drivers other than cell phones. And besides, isn't there already a law on the books deals with "driving with undue care and attention"?

Enough already!

glen p robbins

Dec 31, 2009 at 5:42pm

I expect that most of the public/voters would agree with the government's report conclusions--likely many in the BC Liberal caucus do as well. If hands free talking is banned--the door is open to banning talking--which is probably 'a distaction' as well-if one extends the conclusions of the report. The obvious difference in the policy advanced by Solicitor General Heed is that (theoretically) both hands are available for the steering wheel now, and half a loaf etc.


Jan 1, 2010 at 12:31pm

"Undo care and attention" means TOO MUCH care and attention. The statute reads driving WITHOUT DUE CARE AND ATTENTION.

garth w pickins

Jan 1, 2010 at 3:04pm

i think that the law should be way different for cellphones the law should be that if you cause an accident because you were on your phone or texting you should be charged a 5000$ fine. that way all the bad drivers will know there place and if they dont feel comfortable driving while on the phone or texting then they will have a 5000$ fine to think about


Jan 2, 2010 at 8:40am


Being a tad anal aren't we? Okay. "undue" (unwarranted, inappropriate because excessive or disproportionate) not "undo" (1. unfasten, untie, lossen as in a knot. 2. cancel or reverse the effects or results of a previous action. to cancel. 3. to cause the downfall or ruin of.

To the letter of the law:

Copyright (c) Queen's Printer,
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
[RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 318
Part 3
Careless driving prohibited
144 (1) A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a highway
(a) without due care and attention,
(b) without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway, or
(c) at a speed that is excessive relative to the road, traffic, visibility or weather conditions.

(2) A person who contravenes subsection (1) (a) or (b) is liable on conviction to a fine of not less than $100 and, subject to this minimum fine, section 4 of the Offence Act applies.

Regardless, it's already against the law to drive without due care and attention OR with undue care and attention.

David Hayes

Jan 4, 2010 at 7:57am

I agree that handsfree isn't much less distracting than using acell phone without handsfree but at least you have both hands on the wheel. I don't understand what's so hard about stopping and taking the call or just ignoring it.
Talk or Drive, please don't do both at the same time


Jan 5, 2010 at 6:29am

Police are sometimes speaking on the radio when they miss a turn and drive through the side of a building.