What is Distracted Driving?
The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators defines distracted driving as 'the diversion of attention from driving, as a result of the driver focusing on a non-driving object, activity, event, or person.' A non-driving object, activity, event or person can be using a hand-held device and/or display screen, eating, drinking, changing the radio channel or turning around to check on your kids, all while driving, even when you are stopped at a red light or in traffic.
Driving a motor vehicle while holding your cell phone, programming your GPS or watching/reading something on your mobile device is illegal and could lead to stiff fines, the loss of your license, demerit points and increases to your insurance rates. Other activities like eating or drinking, shaving, smoking, reading, reaching for something in the backseat are not part of the distracted driving law, but could still lead to careless driving charges. Unfortunately, engaging in any of these activities could lead to being involved in an accident leading to injuries or even death.
The Government of Ontario reports that deaths from collisions caused by distracted driving have doubled in the last 20 years. Statistics from 2013 show that one person is injured in a distracted driving accident every half hour, and a distracted driver is four times more likely to be involved in an accident than a driver who is not considered distracted.
In October 2019, according to Global News, 1,290 distracted driving tickets were handed out, with 1,148 of them being for cellphone use while driving, setting an all-time high number of tickets issued in a single month. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), distracted driving can be just as hazardous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Just taking your eyes off the road for four to six seconds is like driving across the length of a football field at 90 km/h with your eyes closed.
We suspect that since 2013, the number of distracted drivers and the unfortunate consequences of driving distracted have only gone up.
What are the Penalties for Distracted Driving in Ontario?
The severity of consequences for drivers convicted of distracted driving under the distracted driving law vary according to the licence you carry, how long you've been driving and the number of convictions you have. Penalties also vary by province, but for this article we are only focusing on the penalties for Ontario.
Here's how the penalties break down for drivers with A to G licences right now:
For your first conviction in Ontario, you will receive a fine of $615, if settled out of court, or a fine of up to $1,000 if a summons is received, or if you fight the ticket in court and lose. You'll also receive three demerit points and your licence will be suspended for 3-days.
A section conviction means another fine of $615, if settled out of court, and a fine of up to $2,000 if a summons is received or if you fight the ticket in court and lose. You'll receive another six demerit points and your licence will be suspended for another 7-days.
A third and any further conviction(s) will land you a fine of $615, if settled out of court, a fine of up to $3,000 if a summons is received or if you fight the ticket in court and lose, plus six demerit points and a 30-day suspension.
Additionally, your car insurance will also likely go way up, 100% or more, and your offences will stay on your record for 3 years.
If you are a new driver, holding a G1, G2, M1 or M2 licence , you will receive the same penalties as above but you will not receive any demerit points. Instead of demerit points, a novice driver will face a 30-day suspension for the first offence, a 90-day suspension for a second offence and the cancellation of your licence and removal from the Graduated Licencing System (so you'll have to redo the GLS program to get your licence back).
You could also be charged with dangerous driving, a criminal offence that carries heavier penalties, including jail terms of up to 10 years for causing bodily harm or up to 14 years for causing death.
How to Avoid Distracted Driving
- Always use a hands-free device, like a bluetooth speaker. Most new cars come equipped with some sort of bluetooth device so you can make and receive calls.
- Put the phone down (or away)
- Turn off your phone or switch it to silent mode
- Silence or ignore your notifications
- Ask a passenger to take a call or respond to a text for you
- Do not engage with any hand-held device while in the car
- Pull over when it is safe to do so
Plain and simple, please don't take chances with your life or the lives of others on the roads by driving while distracted. Remember, distracted or careless driving convictions have long lasting consequences and costs. No matter how safe of a driver you think you are, accidents happen.
Drive safe out there but please note, this article is not intended to be advice.