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Road Sage

R U L8? Keep your hands on the wheel Add to ...

As Ontarians grapple with the cellphone ban, the question on everyone's mind is: "How will millions of drivers cope with stopping doing something they've only really been doing regularly for the last seven years or so?"

Police are on high alert. It is now illegal for drivers to use a hand-held device to talk, text or e-mail. Anyone holding anything against their ear while moving their lips will be pulled over and given, ironically, a stern talking to. After Feb. 1, motorists will face a $500 fine. The most-hated province in Canada is the fourth to ban hand-held discourse and the rest of Confederation is poised to join them. Ontario drivers are still allowed to use "hands-free" devices, though some experts believe these are just as distracting. This means we can all go out and buy a Bluetooth just in time to have them banned too.

The sacrifices will be painful.

No more ordering pizza from the highway in an attempt to time it so that the pizza arrives just after you get home, so it seems like it only took the restaurant fives minutes to deliver.

No more cellphone pre-arguments with spouses or lovers prior to arriving home for the real argument.

No more texting "I M L8" while careening down the highway at 125 kilometers per hour.

Today's cellphone ban hoopla should not distract from the fact that the very introduction of the telephone into the automobile was a moral transgression.

Statistics support the need for the ban. A recent study by the U. S. National Traffic Safety Administration found that 80 per cent of accidents were caused by "driver distraction", which along with cellphone use includes weather, grooming, advertising, smoking, driver fatigue and just about everything that you can see out the window of a car (e.g. shirtless people). "It is not safe to be texting, e-mailing or dialing a phone when you are driving a vehicle," Transportation Minister Jim Bradley told the public.

You don't say?

Stay tuned for studies showing that chewing broken glass causes mouth bleeding and licking public toilet seats increases the chance of contracting gum disease.

Today's cellphone ban hoopla should not distract from the fact that the very introduction of the telephone into the automobile was a moral transgression. Prior to the wireless revolution, the car was a phone-free haven; at the risk of being sexist, the car was a silent masculine environment. Unless you had a passenger, you got in your horse-less carriage and drove and you cleared your head of all the talk you endured during the day. It was a meditative state.

As the cellphone became ubiquitous, this sacred cone of silence was shattered. The car became a "mobile office" where one could get things done. The need to "maximize" the driving experience, to make it productive, stemmed from our unending quest to make every aspect of life work-related. After all, you wouldn't want to waste time actually driving your car would you?

Cellphone use also created a telephone-call caste system. Today important calls are made from one's office or home. Then there are calls that are only worth placing while in transit. Calls you don't really want to make, calls you've been meaning to make, calls not important enough to warrant your full attention, calls so insignificant you could do them while doing something else (like driving). Prior to the cellphone, the closest we got to this kind of call was the "can call" one made from a hotel room that had a telephone by the toilet. The thinking was, you were already there, sitting, voiding your insides, so why not do the same thing with your mouth and make a call?

What's perhaps the most distressing aspect of the ban is the inclusion of CB radios, which Ontario intends to phase out in three years. This is going too far. Truckers have been using CBs, without any trouble, since the 1970s. Besides, any technology that can inspire a country and western song (Convoy) deserves to be kept alive. What's next? Are they going to ban lovable pugilistic chimps from the passenger seat?

Will Ontarians heed the call to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road? The government believes the ban will reduce accidents and fatalities, just as the legislation of seat belt use has done. The difference, however, is that the seat belt law forces drivers to do something, whereas the cellphone ban attempts to stop them from doing something they love - talk crap incessantly. Still, an Angus Reid poll shows that 92 per cent of drivers intend to obey the ban.

Except, we can assume, if they really, really need to talk.

Something on the roads that's driving you nuts? E-mail Road Sage at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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