November 29, 2009, Kitchener, Ontario
Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer
Bosses now firing workers who talk on cell while driving
The Canadian Press
Date: Sunday Nov. 29, 2009 10:01 AM ET
EDMONTON — Tough rules are being adopted by a growing number of companies dissatisfied with provincial laws that still allow drivers to use hands-free cellphones.
Employees driving a company vehicle from Steels Industrial Products, for example, can be fired if they are caught using any kind of cellphone or texting device -- period.
Steels president Jim Sidwell laid down the law to his 180 workers in British Columbia and Alberta a few weeks ago.
"There is enough evidence out there that ties driving safety directly to the use of cellphones," Sidwell said from Vancouver.
"There was no other answer than to move forward with this policy. It was just the right thing to do."
Studies show that drivers who talk on cellphones are six times more likely to be involved in dangerous collisions. And they are 23 times more likely to have a crash if they're texting and driving, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. People who chat on cellphones or text are 10 times more likely to run a stop sign.
Similar policies to those at Sidwell are in force at large companies such as Finning Canada, Husky Energy, Halliburton, ConocoPhilipps and smaller firms such as Hole's Greenhouses.
In Alberta, public sector organizations such as the University of Alberta, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and branches of Alberta Health Services have enacted no-wireless-device driving rules in the absence of cellphone legislation from the provincial government.
They feel so strongly about safety that they've joined an Edmonton-based group called the Coalition for Cellphone-Free Driving (www.cellphonefreedriving.ca). Members include the National Safety Council in the United States.
The coalition was developed by graduate students at the University of Alberta and is headed by Dr. Louis Francescutti, a medical school professor who is also an emergency room physician.
"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 cellphones," Francescutti 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."
Part of the challenge of persuading motorists to leave their cellphones off is the mixed message people are hearing from provincial governments. Since each jurisdiction is responsible for its traffic laws, there's been a hodgepodge approach to the cellphone issue.
Last week, Saskatchewan passed legislation that bans talking and texting on hand-held cellphones, although hands-free devices can be used by experienced drivers. New drivers can't use any type of cellphone or texting device.
In Ontario, all motorists are banned from using any hand-held electronic device to text, email or talk, but hands-free devices are OK. Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Prince Edward Island have similar rules.
Manitoba's cellphone ban is expected to be proclaimed into law next year. British Columbia has introduced legislation that will only allow hands-free devices.
Alberta and New Brunswick haven't introduced any legislation and are still pondering what to do.
Francescutti said provinces could save lives and reduce health-care and insurance costs if they extended the ban to include all types of cellphones.
The coalition offers a generic policy on its website under the heading that asks "What Cellphone Call Is Worth A Life?"
"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 cellphones, whether they be hand-held or hands-free," he said.
Finning Canada banned car cellphones for its 3,600 employees in 2007, said Tom Petras, the company's health and safety director, who added the number of collisions involving Finning vehicles has dropped since then.
Petras said it's disappointing that not all provincial governments aren't bringing in similar safety rules for the public.
"We would like it to mirror what we did. We would like it to mirror the data that is out there and readily available," he said.
"It is time for governments to step up and do the right thing."