Going hands free?

You have less than a month to begin complying with new provincial legislation which places a complete ban on drivers of any motor vehicle from hands use of an electronic device.

The legislation, introduced in B.C. late last year, came into effect January 1. Police will begin issuing tickets February 1, after a one month grace period.

Central Okanagan Traffic Services Staff Sergeant, Al Dengis, says police will be conducting what he calls 'enforcement education' during the month of January.

"Those that we find committing the offence will be issued with a written warning advising them of the offence they have committed," says Dengis.

"As of the first of February, that's when the charge process will begin."

Motorists found in violation of the legislation after February 1 will face a fine of $167.

"If police are able to prove you were texting or receiving an email through your device, it will also include three demerit points against your driving record."

Dengis says the ban on hand-held devices goes beyond just cell phones.

"Electronic devices are considered to be cell phones, PDAs, Blackberrys, IPods, MP3s or any other electronic device you may hold in your hand while operating a motor vehicle."

He says the exceptions to the new legislation is that drivers may use hands-free or one-touch technology.

"Essentially, the legislation bans a driver from holding, operating, communicating or watching the screen of a hand held communication device. They cannot send or receive text messages from those hand held devices."

Dengis adds that the legislation is worded in such a way that police do not have to see a driver using a hand-held device, only holding it in order to issue a ticket.

He says those drivers under the Graduated Licensing Program are completely banned from using any electronic device, hands-free or hand-held unless they are parked at the side of a roadway.

Under the current legislation, emergency services personnel, police, fire and ambulance workers, are exempt from the law.

While police engage in a public awareness campaign, retailers are having a hard time keeping hands-free devices on the shelves.

Kris Grain at Wood Communications in Kelowna says hands-free devices have been flying off the shelf since before Christmas.

"Some days we run out and other days we just stay ahead of the demand," says Grain.

"It's a good thing we are getting new shipments in every day."

Grain says some people are waiting until the last minute (February 1) to dive into the new technology.

"We tell people they shouldn't wait. They should get used to using it before the law comes into effect."

For people who have not inquired yet, Grain says Bluetooth units are less expensive than most people think.

"We can get people into a headset starting at about $39. Vehicle packages run from $89 to $99 depending on need."

Grain adds that Bluetooth technology is the same whether people are running with an older phone or the latest and greatest.

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