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COLUMN: Park your phone, or park your car

I remember using one of the first "portable" phones. The mechanism was housed in a large, briefcase-like container ...

On the Other Hand, by Mark Rushton

I remember using one of the first "portable" phones. The mechanism was housed in a large, briefcase-like container, and the handset attached with a coiled cord still found on home and office phones today.

In 1991 I acquired a Motorola 8000, which was the size and weight of a brick, complete with four-inch antenna. Back then I put it to good use, conveniently ignoring the high cost per minute of calls thanks to the ability to write them off as a business expense.

Although the early ’90s weren’t so long ago, cellphones were a rarity. Today everyone has one.

Because of its size, to use the old Motorola while driving I kind of jammed it against the seat, or between my legs, and punched in the numbers while holding the steering wheel in the other hand, glancing up now and then to ensure I wasn’t meeting a semi head-on.

Fortunately, as years passed and technology advanced, phones got smaller and the numbers easier to dial.

Flip phones were soon discarded. I found that when a call came in I’d scoop it off the seat, try to flip the cover to take the call, and lose it when my thumb slipped.

Eventually, I progressed to a Blackberry and now use an iPhone.

As most know, these are not just phones but micro-computers capable of instantly delivering world news, information, photos, emails and texts.

The convenience of communication from anywhere, anytime, is so remarkable we have become addicted to cellphones.

Being the curious creatures we are, it is almost irresistible to not immediately pick up the phone when it bongs from the cup holder, indicating another email or text to check out.

And those distractions have become the cause of far too many motor vehicle accidents.

Long before laws were enacted banning handheld devices when driving, I bought a Bluetooth device that allowed me to talk and call without touching the phone.

It does not allow the reading of texts or emails however, and that is the root cause of many collisions.

We let our curiosity overcome our sense of purpose, which is to drive our vehicles carefully and safely.

When new laws were enacted a few years ago, many people ignored them, figuring if they got caught the fine was little more than “the price of doing business.”

Thus, with many flouting the law, the provincial government is now cracking down, making it rather painful financially to be a repeat offender.

The fine jumps to $634 on the second offence, and goes up from there.

However, along with fines now come driver’s licence demerit points, which carry their own cost.

Rack up 50 demerit points and ICBC will ding you $24,000. That’s enough to sideline and send to cycling even the most ardent cellphone-using driver.

I agree completely that the dangers inherent in reading or sending texts and email while driving are unacceptable and should not be permitted.

I also fully support the use of hands-free calling devices.

There is absolutely no justifiable reason to take your eyes off the road or lose concentration while driving, particularly on the freeway or congested streets.

It is, therefore, a bit of a conundrum to have a police officer whose job it is to enforce the law and hand over tickets to offenders, drive our streets and highways with a large computer screen glowing over his/her console, or see them holding a cellphone to their ear.