Edmonton bosses ban cell-phone use while driving
Published Sunday, November 29, 2009 7:36PM MST
In the absence of provincial legislation outlining safe cell-phone use for drivers, a growing number of Albertan employers are taking the matter into their own hands by enacting rules of varying severity about what can and can't be done behind the wheel.
The University of Alberta, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (N.A.I.T.) and branches of Alberta Health Services are all instituting a ban of hand-held devices for their employees.
But an Edmonton-based group called the Coalition for Cell-phone-Free Driving (www.cellphonefreedriving.ca) is taking the fight one step further by asking drivers to refrain from cell-phone activity of any kind, including the use of hands-free devices.
"As an emergency room physician I can tell you that people are dying every day in this country as a result of people texting and talking on cell-phones, whether they be hand-held or hands-free," said Dr. Louis Francescutti, who is part of the coalition.
The warning was enough for the president of Steels Industrial Products, who employs 180 workers in Alberta and B.C., to extend the following policy to his employees a few weeks ago: Anyone caught using any kind of cell-phone or texting device while driving a company vehicle will be fired.
"There was no other answer than to move forward with this policy. It was just the right thing to do," Jim Sidwell said from Vancouver.
Similar policies are in place at large companies such as Finning Canada, Husky Energy, Halliburton, ConocoPhilipps and smaller firms such as Hole's Greenhouses.
Part of the challenge in convincing local motorists of the danger of cell-phone use while driving may lie in the fact Alberta and New Brunswick are the only two provinces that have yet to institute or begin instituting any legislation that addresses the issue.
The use of hand-held devices while driving is banned in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec, and Manitoba and B.C. are moving a similar bill through their respective legislatures.
Alberta Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette had been talking up distracted driving rules leading into the legislature's fall sitting, but surprised many when he announced no movement would be made on this issue this year.
In late October he said his ministry would monitor the new legislation in place in other provinces and would only push for a new law if it found enough evidence it would lead to reduced crashes.
"Until they show the stats, that they've actually reduced collisions or they've been working, we don't want to go there," Ouellette told CTV.
"We'll examine...how other provinces have responded, look at the statistics and then take that into consideration at caucus," said Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach at the same time, adding he's worried too strict of laws would not be enforceable and could tie up the legal system.
The call for more statistics is frustrating for members of the coalition for cell-phone-Free Driving, who believe ample evidence already exists.
Studies show that drivers who talk on cell-phones are six times more likely to be involved in dangerous collisions. They are also 23 times more likely to have a crash if they're texting and driving, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Dr. Francescutti wants to see the province take a firm stance on the issue. But he maintains matching other provinces by banning only hand-held devices wouldn't do enough to keep Albertans safe, because it can lead to a false sense of security.
"When the science tells you that there is absolutely no difference between hand-held and hands-free, it is totally irresponsible and borders on negligence for any province to pass any legislation only banning hand-held cell-phones," he said.
"That in essence forces people to go hands-free, thinking that it is safer, when the science tells us that hands-free is actually no safer."
With Files from the Canadian Press