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B.C. to restrict drivers' cellphone use Add to ...

The B.C. government promised Tuesday to pass a law that will restrict cellphone use behind the wheel "to create a safer driving and pedestrian environmental for all."

Solicitor General Kash Heed told reporters yesterday he is looking at three key changes for drivers:

-Limit cellphone use to hands-free operations;

-Ban text messaging;

-Prohibit the use of cellphones and other devices - even in hands-free mode - for new drivers who are under the province's graduated licensing program.

He said the timing of the legislation and further details are still being worked out, but it will bring B.C. in line with at least four other provinces.

In April, Ontario passed a law that bans using handheld devices to talk, e-mail or send text messages while driving. The new rules, which will come into effect this fall, include a fine of up to $500. The law doesn't affect the use of hands-free devices such as those with Bluetooth or dialling 911 on cellphones. Global positioning systems will be allowed as long as they're properly secured to the dashboard.

Ontario followed Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland - all have banned drivers from chatting and texting on handheld devices while on the road.

In 2003, Newfoundland and Labrador became the first province to ban hand-held cellphones for drivers. Penalties in the province range from $11 to $400, plus four demerit points.

Nova Scotia passed its cellphone ban in April, 2008. Also in that month, Quebec banned drivers from using hand-held cellphones. The law was enacted on June 30, and drivers face a $115 fine and three demerit points. Penalties apply even if drivers are not talking but are spotted with a cellphone in their hands.

Manitoba and Prince Edward Island are also considering a ban, but Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach spoke out against a private member's bill introduced in the legislature to ban drivers from using cellphones.

About 50 countries, including Australia and Japan, have cellphone restrictions. In the United States, the District of Columbia and 17 states have laws that restrict cellphone use for teenage drivers.

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