Texting while driving has become one of the leading causes of fatal collisions, and in a bid to curb this dangerous behaviour, Ontario just implemented some of the toughest distracted driving laws in Canada.
As of January 1, fines for using phones behind the wheel have more than doubled to $1,000 for first-time offenders, and a bunch of other consequences, including complete cancellation of your licence.
The tougher penalties are part of Bill 174, a piece of new legislation passed by the Liberals in 2017 that makes amendments to the Highway Traffic Act.
The new amendments are primarily to deal with offences related to driving under the influence of drugs, but one section adds new provisions that increase penalties for offenders of distracted driving.
If you’re caught driving while distracted it will cost you. The law mandates that offenders be charged a minimum of $500 up to $3,000. First-time offenders could be fined up to $1,000, get three demerit points and have your licence suspended for 3 days.
Second-time offenders will be fined up to $2,000, gain six demerit points and a seven-day suspension. For third-time offenders, or anyone hard-headed enough to do it more than that, you’ll be fined $3,000, get six demerit points and have your licence suspended for 30 days.
For novice drivers — people with a G1, G2, M1 or M2 licence — the penalties are a bit different. You’ll receive the same fines as people with A to G licences, but you won’t receive any demerit points. For first convictions, you’ll receive a 30-day licence suspension, a 90-day suspension for second convictions and for any other convictions your licence will be cancelled completely and you’ll be removed from the Graduated Licensing System (GLS), which means you’ll only get your licence back by re-doing all of your testing.
So what counts as distracted driving? The government’s website says that “Using your phone to talk, text, check maps or choose a playlist while you’re behind the wheel all count as distracted driving. Other activities like eating, reading or typing a destination into a GPS are also dangerous when you’re behind the wheel.”
If you’re distracted driving and it endangers other people you could also be charged with careless driving, and the penalties for that are even stiffer. You could be charged up to $2,000, have six demerit points added, receive a licence suspension of up to two years and even face jail time of six months.
The rules apply to phones, DVD players, e-readers, and any other handheld communication devices.