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Road Rules for Hand-Held Wireless and Entertainment Devices

Archived Backgrounder

Road Rules for Hand-Held Wireless and Entertainment Devices

Ministry of Transportation

Ontario's new distracted driving law makes it illegal for motorists to use hand-held wireless communication devices or hand-held electronic entertainment devices while driving.  

This law also prohibits viewing display screens unrelated to the driving task such as laptops or DVD players, while driving.    

Using Wireless Devices In "Hands-Free" Mode

Ontario's new law applies to hand-held wireless communications and hand-held electronic entertainment devices.  This means that motorists may still use these devices in a "hands-free" manner.  To minimize distraction, hands-free use of wireless devices should be kept to a minimum, using only when necessary, while driving.

Examples of hands-free use include:

  • a cell phone with an earpiece or headset using voice dialing, or plugged into the vehicle's sound system (when equipped)
  • a global positioning system (GPS) device that is properly secured to the dashboard or another accessible place in the vehicle
  • a portable audio player (i.e., MP3 player) that has been plugged into the vehicle's sound system.

Installing and using hands-free wireless devices in your vehicle

When setting up a wireless device for hands-free use while driving, make sure the device is mounted in or secured to your vehicle so that it cannot move or obstruct your view of the road.  The device should be placed within easy reach and be positioned in such a way that you can view it without adjusting your seat or driving position.

Many wireless communication devices allow users to activate or deactivate the device's "hands-free" function with the single push of a button.  This is permitted under the new law.  Pressing one button to accept a call and another to switch to hands-free operation, however, is not allowed. In the case of GPS devices, drivers must program and activate their GPS before starting their trip, and not touch the device while driving.  MP3 players must not be handled while driving and should only be operated through the vehicle's entertainment system controls.

Permissible Uses Of Hand-Held Devices

All drivers

Drivers will be permitted to:

  • call 9-1-1 in an emergency situation
  • use these devices when the driver has safely pulled off the roadway (and is not impeding traffic) or is lawfully parked.

Devices not included in the ban:   

  • display screens used for collision avoidance systems.  For example, devices that warn drivers when other vehicles may be travelling too close
  • display screens providing information on the immediate environment of the vehicle.  For example, screens that allow drivers to see behind the vehicle when backing up
  • display screens of instruments, gauges or systems that provide information to the driver about the status of systems in the motor vehicle.  For example, dashboard displays that provide vehicle maintenance reminders, fuel mileage and engine temperature information
  • display screens that provide information on road and weather conditions. 

Emergency response personnel

Police, fire department and emergency medical services personnel may use hand-held wireless communications devices and view display screens in the normal performance of their duties.

Ontario government provincial offences officers and municipal by-law enforcement officers may use two-way radios and view display screens in the performance of their duties.

The use of hand-held radios by amateur radio operators, who provide assistance in emergency situations such as severe storms and blackouts, is permitted until January 1, 2013 to allow hands-free technologies to be developed.

Commercial drivers

Some drivers in transport-related industries (e.g., school bus and taxi drivers, couriers) and public service workers (e.g., transit and highway maintenance workers) rely on the use of certain types of wireless devices and display screen technologies in the performance of day-to-day operations.

There is a three-year phase-out period until January 1, 2013 for the commercial use of two-way radios, including mobile and CB radios to allow for hands-free technologies to be developed.  

The new law does not affect mobile data terminals, logistical tracking devices and dispatching devices.  The display screens of these devices may be viewed by commercial and public service vehicle drivers who are engaged in the performance of their duties.

Two-way radios, hand-mikes (push-to-talk systems) and portable radios ("walkie-talkies") may be used in hands-free mode using a hands-free application.  The driver may also push and hold the button to talk and release it to listen, repeating as often as necessary to conduct a conversation. It could be clipped to the driver's belt or attached to his/her clothing, as long as the hand-mike or "walkie-talkie" is not held while driving.

For more information on specific exemptions for commercial drivers and emergency and other public service workers, download a copy of Ontario Regulation 366/09.

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