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Look ma, no hands

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Ontario went hands-free today.

No more talking on your cellphone while driving unless you’re using a wireless device like Bluetooth. No more texting or dialing, no more changing your Ipod setting or entering a new location into the GPS.

If you want to switch Ipod tracks, are hopelessly lost or like me, feel jittery when the Blackberry buzzes next to you and you can’t check the message, you have to pull over.

Don’t and you risk a $500 fine.

If you’re listening to the radio or a CD in the car and you want to change the channel go ahead. The law only applies to things which are not permanently part of the car. (It’s a bizarre loophole since I’m pretty sure changing the radio can be just as distracting as fast forwarding a song on the Ipod but every law has its flaws).

Manitoba has a similar law that is going to take effect next year. Ontario’s new ban is the fourth in the country. Newfoundland outwitted everyone and put one in place way back in 2002. Quebec and Nova Scotia did so last year.

It was Quebec’s law that first propelled me to invest in a Bluetooth earpiece during the 2008 federal election. In Quebec you can get fined for so much as touching your cell phone while driving.

Giving up talking on the phone while driving is a tough habit to break but it often occurs to me how bizarre it is in this world when a $500 fine is enough to make us hang up but the threat of being killed or seriously hurt in a car accident is not.

I am not really a convert to the wireless device though. I am not convinced using it is any safer than talking on the phone other than having both hands on the wheel. Answering it is still distracting, not to mention the jump it gives me every time it beeps suddenly in my ear telling me I have an incoming call.

So this morning on my way to work I purposely put my blackberry in the bottom of my purse and stowed the purse out of reach in the backseat. Temptation out of sight, and thankfully, far enough away that the buzzing Blackberry couldn’t be heard.

I only worried a few times what messages I might be missing and was thankful I have just a 10-minute commute to work.

In completely unrelated news one of the most talked about traffic stories in Ottawa over the weekend had nothing to do with the cell phone ban.

It involved a driver from Gatineau who was determined to use the carpool lane despite not having two passengers to accompany him as required. So he dressed up a teddy bear in a toque and scarf and strapped him into a carseat. The cops weren’t fooled, and he got a $144 ticket.

That’s not even the best part.

The best part is that the driver did it again the next day and got caught again.

The teddy bear, said one of the news stories I heard, was never in harm’s way. The driver may not be the sharpest tool in the shed - or $144 isn’t enough to learn his lesson - but he does care about teddy bear safety. The car seat into which the bear was safely strapped, was actually properly installed.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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