Ontario's new driving laws took effect on Jan. 1, 2019. The province decided to make these changes as part of its ongoing effort to enhance the safety of our roads, ensuring drivers take better care when behind the wheel. Keep in mind that deaths from collisions caused by distracted driving have doubled in Ontario since 2000. Data from 2013 has found that one person is injured in a distracted-driving collision every half hour and a driver using a phone is four times more likely to crash than one who is not distracted.
So, what exactly constitutes distracted driving? Considered to be a form of impaired driving, anything a driver does that pulls his or her attention away from the road is distracted driving. That broad definition includes the following activities: talking and texting on a cell phone, reading (a map, a newspaper etc.), using a GPS, adjusting the radio, eating or drinking, personal grooming and even playing extremely loud music.
That said, while you can still be charged for careless or dangerous driving when eating, drinking, grooming, smoking and reading, Ontario’s distracted driving laws only apply to the cases where drivers use hand-held communication/entertainment devices and certain display screens.
What that means is, if you’re driving or stopped at a red light or in traffic, it is illegal to:
- use a phone or other hand-held wireless communication device to text or dial
- use a tablet or other hand-held electronic entertainment device
- watch a video or a display screen unrelated to driving
- program a GPS device, unless by voice commands
To be clear: simply holding a phone or other device while driving (or even at a red light) is against the law, with the exception of calling 911 in an emergency. But one is able to use a hands-free device or a mounted device like a GPS so long as it is securely affixed to the car.
With the hope of deterring unlawful activities, the government of Ontario has increased fines and penalties for distracted driving. Today, first-time offenders can be fined up to $1,000, and receive both three demerit points and a three-day license suspension. Repeat offenders can face a fine of $3,000, six demerit points and a 30-day licence suspension (for third time convictions).
Penalties are even more severe for novice drivers. They won’t be fined or lose any demerit points but their license will be suspected for a lot longer. For a first time offense, the driver automatically receives a 30-day license suspension, while second-time offenders will see a 90-day suspension. A novice driver’s license will be cancelled upon a third conviction.
With these new rules in force, it would behoove any driver to think twice. Keep your eyes on the road - or face the consequences.