New Stiff Penalties For Distracted Driving

By Al Pace | September 4, 2015

It’s always been illegal to drive while distracted in Ontario. That is, if you take your eyes off the road while driving to look at the muffin in your lap or to adjust your child’s seatbelt, then you have broken the law.

The fastest-growing category of distracted driving involves using mobile devices, like smartphones, to make calls, send texts or listen to music.

One police source states that since 2009 more than 500 people have died on Ontario roads where “inattention was a casual factor.”  Statistically speaking, distracted driving has surpassed impaired driving as the leading cause of fatal car accidents in the province.

To address this situation, among other traffic issues, the provincial government passed the “Making Making Ontario Roads Safer Act,” or Bill 31, last June, and it came into effect on Sept. 1, 2015.

For distracted driving offences, drivers now face a set fine of $490 and three demerit points. And motorists with G1 or G2 licences could see their permits suspended on the spot. (Drivers with regular licences would have their permits suspended after being caught for three infractions.) Before Sept. 1, distracted driving fines were approximately $200.

So, what constitutes distracted driving with mobile devices, such as phones, tablets and MP3 players? The police say they will be looking for motorists with a “cellphone or entertainment device” in their hands as they drive.

Driving using the phone hands-free with a Bluetooth connection or mounted on the dashboard should be OK. Having it on your lap may be allowable, but if you actually look down at it and take your eyes off the road then that would be distracted driving.  Also, if you press a button on the phone to end or answer a call without looking down at the device and away from the road, then you would be OK. Look and then you could be in trouble if spotted by the police.

The only exception to the hands-free rule is using the mobile device to contact emergency services, including the police, ambulance or fire department.

You also have the option of pulling over and stopping to use your mobile device. But you must do so in lawful way that doesn’t impede traffic. And you must turn off your vehicle to use your electronics. However, stopping at a red light doesn’t count as pulling over, so you would be charged if you chose that moment to, say, send a text.

Bill 31 also further defined and penalized other driving offences. For example, motorists who “door” passing bicyclists will face increased set fines of $365 plus three demerit points. Drivers are also required to give cyclists one meter of room when passing them on the road.

As well, they must wait until pedestrians completely cross the road at school crossing and pedestrian crossovers before proceeding. (This change will take effect January 1, 2016.) Approximately half of all accidents involving pedestrians occur at intersections.

If you are ever hit and hurt by another driver, no matter what the circumstances, you need to see an experienced personal injury lawyer immediately to know what your legal rights are.

Contact Pace Law Firm for free consultation at 1888-521-2681, or fill in the online consultation request form.