April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Most of us are aware that using handheld devices while driving is illegal. However, there are several 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 road safety for everyone. We discuss what distracted driving really is and the penalties that follow with a conviction.

What is distracted driving?

According to the Government of Ontario, distracted driving refers to anything that causes a driver to lose focus on the road. Distractions that can gain you demerit points or a fine include:

  • Using your phone to find maps, talk, text or find music
  • Eating while driving
  • Applying makeup
  • Reading
  • Typing a location in your GPS. You should input navigational information prior to departure.

However, a common myth is that if you’re at a stop or red light, that you can do any of the aforementioned. The simple fact is that even if you’re at a red light, the above are still illegal. As a driver, you need to focus on the road at all times.

Other common distractions that won’t issue a fine include: drinking coffee, smoking or 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 receive charges and are convicted with distracted/careless driving by a court or by paying the fine, you can see rate increases of up to 100 percent when it’s time to renew your policy. However, if you’re in the process of fighting it, you cannot be charged until the final decision is made.
  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. High-risk driver label: If you receive a distracted 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?

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

  • First offence: Three day suspension, three demerit points, and $615 – $1,000 fine
  • Second offence: Seven day suspension, six demerit points, and $2,000 fine
  • Three or more offences: 30-day suspension, six demerit points, and $3,000 fine (with longer suspensions and potential license cancellation for novice drivers, or those with Class G1, G2, M1 or M2 licenses) 

If you hit or injure someone while using a handheld device, you can face a conviction for careless driving and criminal charges for dangerous driving.

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). This regulates 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.

Careless driving convictions can lead to many consequences

  • Six demerit points
  • Fines of up to $3,000
  • Six months in jail
  • License suspension for up to two years
  • Large spike in insurance rates (increases of 100 percent or more)
  • Possible job loss (if driving is a part of your job)

Dangerous driving penalties are even worse. If you injure someone, you can face up to 10 years in jail. If the injuries result in death, you can have 14 or more years in prison. Remember, the ministry deems driving as a privilege, not a right. Don’t take the risk of a distracted driving conviction. Plan your route ahead of time, don’t eat or drink while driving and avoid using any handheld devices while behind the wheel.

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