New Distracted Driving Penalties

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 11:54 a.m. September 1, 2015

If you put it out of reach, you are not going to be out of touch.

Hand on a steering wheel and another on a smartphone
Texting on the road makes drivers much more likely to be involved in a collision

That’s the message Toronto Police and the rest of the policing community in the province are preaching to drivers who insist on using hand-held devices while operating their vehicles. 

As of September 1, distracted drivers – under the new Bill 31,Making Ontario Roads Safer Act – will be subjected to stiffer penalties, which include a $490 fine and three demerit points on conviction. New drivers will also face a minimum 30-day suspension for their first conviction and longer penalties for subsequent ones.

Since 2010, Toronto Police has issued 91,000 tickets for distracted-driving offences. In addition, there have been over 60 distracted-driving collisions in the city so far this year.

“The likelihood of being involved in a collision, while you are texting and driving, is exponentially higher,” Chief Mark Saunders said, at a press conference on September 1 at Fairview Mall to launch police enforcement of the new legislation. “Distracted driving is, by far, the fastest-growing issue that will surpass impaired driving causing death.

“…I know that the bill offers mechanisms for deterrence so that people can comply. But there is a cultural change that needs to take place for this to work. Right now, there is still a level of cultural acceptability that’s causing people to still break the law when they are behind the wheel and texting. This is going to take time. It’s going to be generational, but we have to start now and I do believe that by, implementing this bill, it’s a very loud message that says we are not going to tolerate distracted driving anymore because the loss of life is too great.”

Right now, there is still a level of cultural acceptability that’s causing people to still break the law when they are behind the wheel and texting. This is going to take time. It’s going to be generational, but we have to start now

Steven Del Duca, the provincial Minister of Transportation, joined Saunders, Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair and Elliot Silverstein of the Canadian Automotive Association (CAA) at the press conference.

“The government of Ontario is taking aim at those drivers who still are not getting the message and continue to text on their smartphones,” said Del Duca. “If current trends continue, fatalities through distracted driving will exceed those for drinking and driving by 2016. Many of our policing partners tell me that they see this happening already.

“Research also tells us that a driver who uses his cellphone while driving is four times more likely to be involved in a crash. Drinking and driving has been unacceptable in our society and we need to make sure that the same thing happens with distracted driving…We need to change dangerous behaviour.”

Traffic Services Constable Hugh Smith hopes the fine increase and demerit points will force drivers to think twice before using a hand-held device while operating a vehicle on the roadways.

“Driving is a privilege and we don’t want to lose that,” he said. “With the accumulation of demerits, you may have the potential to lose your licence in addition to significant hikes in insurance premiums. The key, here, is we want to reduce serious injuries and save lives… Common sense sometimes prevails but, when it doesn’t, we have to put these laws in. We know that holding these devices is compulsive and addictive behaviour, and if they are within reach, people are going to hold on to them. They key is putting those devices out of hand reach when you are driving.”

Smith said eating and drinking in a car also contribute to the unsafe operation of a vehicle.

Prior to September 1, the penalty for distracted driving was confined to a fine ranging from $60 to $500.

Passed last June, the new bill also allows for a $365 fine and three demit points for the “dooring” of cyclists or vehicles, a $110 fine and two demerit points for drivers failing to leave a one-metre distance when passing cyclists and a $180 fine and two demerit points for failing to leave a one-metre distance when passing cyclists in a community safety zone.

Drivers will also be subjected to a $490 fine for failing to slow down and move over for tow trucks and cyclists face a set $110 fine for riding with improper lighting.

With the accumulation of demerits, you may have the potential to lose your licence in addition to significant hikes in insurance premiums.

Superintendent Gord Jones, the Traffic Services Unit commander, welcomed the changes.

“The government has now given us additional tools to hold people accountable for their reckless actions,” he said. “We have heard all along that it is the loss of points that makes the difference and we now have that ability to take them away. If everybody abides by the law and focuses on the task of driving, they will not have to come in contact with us. They wouldn't have to worry about a fine or demerit points.”

As a leading advocate of traffic safety, the CAA launched a campaign –Heads Up  – to help educate its members and all road users. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness and educate drivers about new laws and regulations following the passing of the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act. 

“These are changes that we believe will make our roads safer,” said Elliott Silverstein, CAA manager of government relations. “Each day, we see drivers gawking at fender-benders, cutting each other off and staring at their smartphones when they should be focused on the road while driving. Far too often, we hear about the senseless deaths and life-altering injuries due to collisions on our roads which can be avoided.”

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