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Distracted Driving in Ontario: An Overview

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April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. In this blog we’ll discuss what distracted driving really is and the penalties if convicted.

Most of us are aware that using handheld devices while driving is illegal, but there are several of other myths out there about what drivers can and cannot do behind the wheel.

Here is everything you need to know about distracted driving in Ontario to ensure that the roads are kept safe for everyone.

When was the distracted driving bill passed and what does it entail?

December 12, 2017: Ontario passed Bill 174 (The Cannabis, Smoke-Free Ontario and Road Safety Statue Law Amendment Act) which regulated the sale of recreational marijuana as well as amendments to the Highway Traffic Act.

January 1, 2019: Changes were made to the act to strengthen the existing road laws to ensure that safety was a top priority for anyone driving.

What is distracted driving?

According to the Government of Ontario, distracted driving refers to anything that causes a driver to be less focused on the road. Other distractions that can cost you demerit points or a fine include:

  • Using your phone to find maps, talk, text or find music
  • Eating
  • Applying makeup
  • Reading
  • Typing a location in your GPS. Navigational information should be imputed to your mobile device prior to departure

A common myth is that if you’re stopped at a red light you can do any of the aforementioned. The simple fact is that is just not the case. As a driver, you need to be focused on the road at all times…despite being at a red light or not.

Other common distractions (but won’t issue you a fine) include: drinking coffee, smoking and changing the radio station.

How does distracted driving affect my insurance?

If you’re driving distractedly and receive a ticket, this charge will definitely impact your auto insurance in the three following ways:

  1. Higher insurance rates: If you’re charged and convicted with distracted/careless driving by a court or by paying the fine you can see rate increases of up to 100 per cent when it’s time to renew your policy. However, if you’re in the process of fighting it, you cannot be charged.
  2. Loss of insurance coverage: Not only can you expect your rates to be very high, but in some cases, insurance providers may cancel or not renew your policy.
  3. Labeled as a high-risk driver: If you receive a careless driving charge, the majority of insurance providers will deem you a high-risk driver, meaning you’ll need high-risk auto insurance.

What happens if you’re convicted?

With distracted driving being the leading cause of fatal collisions in Ontario, police have enforced stricter penalties, such as licence suspensions as well as hefty fines. The suspension period and fine amount will vary depending on the number of subsequent offences.

  • First offence: three day suspension and $1,000 fine
  • Second offence: seven day suspension and $2,000 fine
  • Three or more offences: 30-day suspension, $3,000 fine and six demerit points

If you hit or injure someone while using a handheld device, you could be convicted for careless driving and criminally charged for dangerous driving.

Careless driving convictions can lead to one or more of these consequences:

  • Six demerit points
  • Fines of up to $3000
  • Six months in jail
  • License suspension for up to two years
  • Large spike in insurance rates (increases of 100 per cent or more)
  • Possible job loss (if driving is a part of your job)

Dangerous driving penalties are worse. If you injure someone, you could face up to 10 years in jail and if the injuries result in death you could have 14 or more years in prison.

Remember, the ministry deems driving as a privilege, not a right. Don’t take the risk of being convicted of distracted driving. Plan your route ahead of time, don’t eat or drink while driving and avoid using any hand-held devices while behind the wheel.

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