Distracted Driving – Don’t Let It Happen to You

On my recent summer driving trip, I was shocked to see the number of drivers who still use their cell phones while driving. I even saw a person applying makeup while driving. Driving is a complicated process that requires full awareness of your surroundings and the ability to respond quickly to changes on the road. Anything that interrupts a driver’s concentration can lead to distracted driving, and it is a significant problem in Ontario according to new research from the Canadian Automobile Association.

Distracted driving can lead to significant consequences, serious injury and, sadly, sometimes death. If you are pulled over by the police, it may also result in hefty fines and (it goes without saying) an increase in your insurance premiums.

Distracted driving is much more than simply using your cell phone while operating a vehicle. For instance, with the introduction of large screen-operated dashboard consoles in vehicles, many people can lose focus while adjusting in-car features or settings. Drivers have even been known to use portable gaming devices and tablets while driving. Although many drivers think that they are being ‘safe’ by undertaking these tasks while at a stop light, a driver should never shift their focus while in traffic, regardless of their speed. Accidents or emergency situations can happen in the blink of an eye, and even a momentary distraction can be fatal.

Fines for distracted driving in Ontario are quite severe. A first offence is punished with a fine of $615.00 and the accumulation of three demerit points, along with a three-day licence suspension. If the matter is disputed and ends up in Court, the fine can increase to as much as $1,000.00. For a second offence, the fine can be as high as $2,000.00 with six demerit points. Fines will stay on your record for up to seven years. A third conviction will result in the revocation of your licence, meaning that you will be required to re-take the province’s series of graduated tests and earn your G licence all over again.

Here are some common causes of distracted driving, along with tips for staying focused:

You should always have a clear idea of where you are going before you even get in your vehicle. Know your whole route. If you require the use of a GPS, be sure to program your destination before you set off. If you are inclined to use your phone or other device to listen to podcasts or music playlists, set it up before you depart. If in the middle of your trip you want to change something, pull off the road and do so while you are parked safely out of traffic.

If you are one of those people who cannot resist answering a phone call or text message when your phone rings, set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” when you set out. That way if a text or call comes in while you are driving, the phone will advise the other person accordingly. You can return the call or text when you arrive at your destination.

Other people and items in your vehicle can be a distraction while driving. Loose items should all be securely stored away. If a loose item falls, it can cause a visual distraction or, worse, it can get entangled in the driver’s feet, or tempt the driver to reach to move the item. People like to travel with their pets. All animals should be properly secured in the vehicle, in the back seat. They should not be allowed to roam throughout the vehicle, and certainly they should not be encouraged to sit on your lap while you are driving as that would be an impediment to proper use of the steering wheel. Sometimes the distraction is caused by our human companions. If you find yourself having a highly-engaging conversation with your passengers, do not hesitate to explain that you will have to tune out in order to focus on the road.

Driving while eating or drinking is another common occurrence. Just because everyone does it, doesn’t mean it is not distracting. Even just drinking coffee while driving should be discouraged, but if you do decide to do it, be sure that your beverage is in a proper cup with a secure lid and that it can be properly secured in a convenient cupholder (not between your legs). You should never eat while driving.

Activities such as smoking, personal grooming, listening to music, or even talking to a passenger, can all lead to a charge of distracted driving if one’s driving is obviously affected, even though the likely charge will be careless or dangerous driving, which are also serious offences.

While is it common knowledge in our society that drinking and driving is taboo, there does not seem to be quite as much stigma associated with distracted driving, despite the fact that distracted driving can be just as deadly. Since the public does not see it to be as dangerous as impaired driving, it is sadly continuing to happen all too frequently. This writer believes the penalties should be increased. Driving is a privilege in Ontario not a right. Do not abuse it.

At Howie, Sacks & Henry we represent all manner of accident victims, including those who have suffered injury at the hands of negligent operators of automobiles and trucks. If you or a loved one have been the victim of an accident or injury as a result of a distracted driver or any other cause, please contact Michael Henry at 416-361-0889 or by e-mail mjhenry@hshlawyers.com.


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