Distracted driving laws are about to get tougher in Ontario

Updates to Ontario's distracted driving laws come into effect Jan 1, 2019. Here's what you need to know.

A recent statement from the Ontario Provincial Police indicated that distracted driving continues to be the number one cause of collisions in the province. In fact, in 2016 distracted driving accounted for more collisions than any other factor – including driving while under the influence – accounting for 65 deaths on Ontario roads. The rate of death due to distracted driving has more than doubled in Ontario since 2000, causing growing concern by provincial governments, police, and road users.

In an effort to combat this growing issue, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has introduced new legislation to take effect January 1, 2019. The Amendment to the Highway Traffic Act was introduced under the Cannabis, Smoke-Free Ontario and Road Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, which was passed on December 12, 2017. Under the new amendment, fines and penalties for using a mobile device while driving will more than double – from $490 to $1,000 – including a three day licence suspension and three demerit points. And that’s just for first time offenders. For repeat offenders, the potential fines and penalties are more severe. The CBC explains,

Drivers with more than one distracted driving conviction will face a fine of up to $2,000, a seven-day licence suspension and six demerit points, while motorists who have been caught driving distracted more than two times will pay a fine of up to $3,000 and lose their license for 30 days.

 

What counts as distracted driving in Ontario?

As defined by the MTO, distracted driving can include a variety of activities - using your phone to talk, text, check maps, choose a playlist, eating, reading or typing a destination into a GPS. And yes, the charge remains the same regardless of whether your vehicle is in motion or stopped at a red light – a common misconception among road users. With the exception of a call to the police, fire department, or emergency services, hand-held devices may not be used at a stop light.

What doesn’t count as distracted driving in Ontario?

Hands-free devices are permitted, meaning that you are not touching, holding, or manipulating the device while driving. You may active or deactivate the device’s hands-free function, but actions like scrolling, dialing, etc., are not allowed. Permitted hands-free devices include:

  • A cell phone with an earpiece, headset, or bluetooth device with voice-activated dialing;
  • A GPS screen that is mounted on the dashboard or windshield (you must input the destination prior to driving);
  • Portable media players plugged into the vehicle’s audio system (you must activate the playlist prior to driving);
  • Display screens that are built into the vehicle; and,
  • Ignition interlock devices.

 

How can you prevent distracted driving?

There are some quick and easy ways to set yourself up for success before getting behind the wheel:

  • Input your GPS destination prior to driving
  • Activate your audio playlist prior to getting behind the wheel
  • Use a safe-driving app, like Onlia Sense, to become aware of any distracted driving instances and hone your behaviour
  • Switch your phone to flight mode
  • Put your phone out of reach – no temptation, no problem!
  • Pull over safely when you have to make a call

 

For more information and tips on how to stay distraction-free, check out our Distracted Driving 101 blog here.

What do you think of Ontario’s new distracted driving laws? Will it help keep our roads safer, or is there more we can do? Tweet us your thoughts @OnliaCA #OnliaCA.