Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Jan. 11, 2010)


Ban won't make a difference 


  By John Martin


BCís new ban on using cell phones and other handheld devices at the wheel is clearly a logical and wise piece of legislation Ė itís also ten years too late. Had such a law been introduced at the same time as cell phone use was becoming routine, itís quite likely the legislation would have helped define the culture and protocol around portable phones. Trying to insert this piece of common sense at this point, however, is unlikely to have any impact. Once a norm becomes engrained in our culture itís virtually impossible to remove it. And, sadly, using the phone while driving has become quite normal.

Cell phones have redefined how people stay in touch and network, whether for business or social purposes. For many, the daily commute is part of the workday and an opportunity to return calls, set up appointments and tend to other work related matters. For others, the time spent driving is better put to use catching up with friends and staying connected. Attempting to undo this practice at this point in the game is likely futile. 

I have a strict policy in my classes banning any and all use of cell phones and the anxiety this causes some people is quite obvious. For some, being unable to check email or send a text for twenty minutes causes one to break out in a cold sweat. Others must continually excuse themselves from the room, most likely to stay connected. A law prohibiting these people from using a cell while driving is going to be as tough a sell as a house rule insisting they read a chapter of a classic piece of literature before playing video games. Good luck.

Iím not for a second defending those who use these devices while driving. Iíve lost count how many times Iíve leaned on the horn, trying to impress upon the person in front of me that the light turned green. I constantly see fools drift from lane to lane while seemingly engaged in something much more interesting than the road and other motorists. Iím often stuck behind someone going twenty kilometers below the speed limit Ė absolutely oblivious to whatís going on outside his or her little world. This past weekend, at a red light, half a dozen cars turning left brushed by me Ė in every single case the driver was yapping on the phone.

Despite the best of intentions, I canít see this law having any measurable impact. Itís going to be tough and awkward for police to enforce and most will likely rationalize that a little extra caution is all thatís needed to continue such behaviour. The possibility of a $167 fine, Iím afraid, isnít going to deter. If legislators want to revise this law and give it some teeth Ė authorize police to seize the phone on the spot.

Then youíll see results.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


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