Distracted Driving in Ontario : Laws, Fines, Statistics and Tips

Jan 11, 2017

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is one of the biggest issues on Ontario roadways today. It has surpassed impaired driving as the number one killer on the roads, and it is an issue that drivers need to take more seriously.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about distracted driving is that it is preventable. If each driver were to do their part and be more dedicated to avoiding driving while distracted, countless accidents, injuries, and deaths could be prevented on Canadian roads.

Why drivers still engage in distracted driving practices and put themselves and others at risk is still somewhat of a mystery :

  • Is it because drivers think that checking their phone while driving isn’t a big deal?
  • Are people overconfident about their driving abilities?
  • Have people become desensitized to anti-distracted driving campaigns?
  • Or are people still not clear about what is and is not considered to be distracted driving?

Defining Distracted Driving

To clear up any misunderstanding as to what is considered distracted driving and what is not, here is a distracted driving definition from the RCMP :

“Distracted driving is a form of impaired driving as a driver's judgment is compromised when they are not fully focused on the road. Distracted driving qualifies as talking on a cell phone, texting, reading (e.g., books, maps, and newspapers), using a GPS, watching videos or movies, eating/drinking, smoking, personal grooming, adjusting the radio/CD and playing extremely loud music. Even talking to passengers and driving while fatigued (mentally and/or physically) can be forms of distracted driving.”

Ways In Which Drivers Are Distracted When Not On The Phone

There are plenty of ways people can get distracted while driving. Here’s a ranking of secondary behaviours among drivers and their frequency, as outlined in a recent IIHS study :

  • Interacting with passenger : 11.7%
  • Talking on cellphone : 6.5%
  • Holding object other than cellphone : 5.6%
  • Talking/singing/dancing alone : 4.9%
  • Holding cellphone : 3.7%
  • Smoking : 3.6%
  • Adjusting radio/climate control or inserting/retrieving CD/cassette : 3.3%
  • Eating : 2.8%
  • Other cellphone interaction : 1.3%

Why Is Driving While Distracted Dangerous?

Distracted driving is dangerous because it takes your eyes and your attention off the road. It only takes a second for something to happen, and you need to be prepared to react. Distracted driving can lead to :

  • Less time to react
  • Poor judgment
  • Overreactions and making mistakes
  • Injuring or killing yourself, your passengers and/or other people

What Are the Distracted Driving Laws In Ontario?

The distracted driving laws in Ontario have changed quite a bit over the past few years. According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, it is against the law to :

  • Operate handheld electronic devices while driving.
  • View display screens that are unrelated to driving.

Cell phones are not the only handheld devices that are restricted under the current Ontario distracted driving laws. Here are some common handheld devices that you should NEVER use while driving :

  • Infotainment systems
  • iPod or music players (mp3)
  • DVD (entertainment/video player)
  • iPads & tablets
  • Handheld video games
  • Laptops
  • GPS (unless it is mounted)

What About Hands Free Devices?

There are certain hands free devices that you can use that do not fall under the current distracted driving laws in Ontario – GPS, hands free phones, built in display screens and others can be used. The MTO provides a great chart outlining permitted hands free devices :

Distracted driving and devices that can be used

Are There Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws?

There are some exceptions and situations where safe cell phone use is permitted. You can call 911 in an emergency situation, and you can use handheld devices when you are lawfully parked or have safely pulled off the road and are not impeding traffic.

The RCMP explains : “There are special circumstances under which it is safe to use a cellular device. If you see a hazardous driver swerving or driving erratically, safely pull over with your hazard lights on and call 9-1-1. Gather as many details as you can, including the direction in which the car was going, the street it was on, and the make and model of the vehicle. Knowing the license plate number can help too.”

Emergency personnel such as police, firefighters and EMS are permitted to use cell phones while driving. “Commercial and public transit drivers, as well as public service workers who are engaged in the performance of their duties, will be able to view the display screens of mobile data terminals and logistical tracking and dispatching devices,” says MTO.

Distracted Driving Laws in Ontario – What Are the Penalties?

Distracted driving fines and penalties have changed in Ontario, and drivers need to be aware of the repercussions of having a distracted driving charge on their record. This has created a lot of questions for drivers :

  • How will distracted driving impact my record?
  • How many points is a cell phone ticket in Ontario?
  • What is the fine for texting while driving in Ontario?

Here is what you need to know about distracted driving fines :

  • Fines range from $490 - $1,000.
  • Assignment of three demerit points upon conviction.

Novice Drivers Face Even Stiffer Penalties for Distracted Driving

If convicted of distracted driving, novice drivers will face the following suspensions :

  • First conviction : 30-day suspension
  • Second conviction : 90-day suspension
  • Third conviction : licence cancellation and the driver has to go back to the beginning of Ontario's graduated licensing program.

Novice drivers WILL NOT be subject to demerit points.

Distracted Driving and Careless Driving

Distracted driving laws and statistics in Ontario

Being convicted of distracted driving while putting others in danger could have even more severe consequences. MTO explains :

“Drivers who endanger others because of any distraction, including hand-held and hands-free devices, may still be charged with Careless Driving under the Highway Traffic Act or even Dangerous Driving under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Both charges carry heavy fines and penalties, if convicted, including 6 demerit points, fines of up to $2,000 and/or a jail term of six months, and up to two-year licence suspension in the case of Careless Driving. Dangerous Driving is a criminal offence and includes jail terms of up to five years.”

Distracted Driving Laws in Canada and Other Provinces

Distracted driving laws in Canada vary from province to province. Currently, all 10 provinces and Northwest Territories have laws against distracted driving. Here are some interesting findings about the distracted driving laws in Canada :

  • Nunavut is the only region in Canada with no distracted driving laws.
  • First time offense fines for distracted driving in Quebec is the lowest - $80-$100.
  • The highest fines are in PEI – up to $1200.
  • Manitoba and PEI have the most demerit points (5), with all other provinces having at least 3 demerit points.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada provides a summary of the distracted driving penalties in Canada. Click here to learn more.

Distracted Driving Statistics in Canada

Nearly 3 of out 4 Canadian drivers admit to driving distracted. This is alarming. It also means that the driver in front of you, behind you and beside you has probably driven while being distracted. Scary thought, right?

Here is an even scarier one – you are 23 times more likely to crash if you engage in texting and driving. This is only the beginning of distracted driving stats and facts that you need to be aware of.

According to the MTO website, research demonstrates that “drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be in a collision than drivers who focus on the road. And when drivers take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds, their crash risk doubles.”

Considering these distracted driving statistics, it’s not that surprising that the OPP recently reported that distracted driving is the number one killer on our roads, causing more deaths than impaired driving and speeding.

Ontario Distracted Driving Stats

In Ontario :

  • Deaths Have Doubled : Deaths from collisions caused by distracted diving have doubled since 2000.
  • Person Injured Every 30 Mins : One person is injured from a distracted driving related accident every 30 minutes.
  • 4 Times More Likely To Crash : A driver using a phone is four times more likely to crash than a driver focusing on the road (source).

Additional Distracted Driving Facts and Statistics

So, what percent of accidents are caused by distracted drivers? It’s estimated that close to two-thirds (64%) of accidents are a result of a distracted driving action. Here are some additional distracted driving facts and statistics :

  • Don't Reach : Reaching for an object makes you 9 times more likely to get into an accident.
  • 4 Million Accients Caused : Distracted driving is a factor in 4 million car accidents in North America each year.
  • 3 Seconds Until Accident : It takes an average of three seconds after a driver’s mind is taken off the road for any road accident to occur.
  • Teenagers : 94% of teenagers understand the consequences of texting and driving, but 35% of them admitted that they do it anyway.
  • Texting : When polled, 77% of adults and 55% of teenage drivers say that they can easily manage texting while driving.

Types of Distractions While Driving

There are many things that can be considered a distraction while driving :

Distracted driving in Ontario

  • Texting and driving
  • Using any device that needs to be touched, held or operated
  • Talking, reading, emailing, scrolling on your device
  • Reading print – books, maps
  • Watching videos
  • Eating, drinking, smoking, grooming (no makeup!)
  • Tuning or adjusting your radio
  • Talking with passengers in the vehicle
  • Driving while tired – mentally or physically

3 Types of Distracted Driving

In general, driving distractions can be categorized into three general types :

1. Visual Distractions : Taking your eyes off the road – using a GPS, looking out the window, looking for something in the car.
2. Manual Distractions : Removing hands from the wheel – holding your phone, eating, grooming.
3. Cognitive Distractions : Not having your mind on driving – daydreaming, talking to passengers.

The Most Dangerous Distractions While Driving

Property Casualty 360 outlines the 10 deadliest driving distractions :

1. Losing focus or being lost in thought
2. Cell phone use - talking, texting, dialing
3. Objects, events or people outside the vehicle
4. Passengers
5. Reaching for things – such as a GPS
6. Eating or drinking
7. Adjusting the radio or climate controls
8. Using vehicle controls – adjusting mirrors, seats, using navigation system
9. Moving objects - pets
10. Smoking-related distractions

Consequences of Distracted Driving – Car Insurance Repercussions

A districted driving conviction can have a significant impact on your car insurance in Ontario. In addition to fines and demerit points, you could also risk being labelled a high risk driver. Getting a distracted driving ticket could :

  • Increased Rates : Increase your insurance rates for the next few years.
  • Lose Discounts : Cause you to lose your current car insurance discount.
  • More Expensive Quotes : Makes it difficult for you to get cheap insurance quotes.
  • Cancellation : Cause your insurance company to not renew your policy.
  • High Risk : Make it difficult to get insurance coverage as you may not qualify for regular insurance.

Avoid Being a Distracted Driver with These 11 Tips

Tips To Avoid Being A Distracted Driver

While Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act is a comprehensive overview of what’s legal and what’s not, there’s a lot more to being distracted than texting and driving. Here are 11 great tips to stop being a distracted driver :

1. Start By Stowing Your Device : Since you know you can’t use your device when driving, begin your travel by turning off your phone and putting it out of reach – such as in your glove compartment. If you’re not sure you can resist the temptation to reach over and check messages – an especially dangerous move – store your device in your trunk.

2. Review Your Route : Take some time to study any maps and directions you have before you set out to drive. “Figuring it out along the way” is not an effective strategy to avoid distracted driving. After your review, CAA suggests you put all reading material in your trunk.

3. Pre-program Your GPS : If you have a global positioning system and know the address of your destination, program your GPS and determine your route beforehand. How is using a GPS not against the law if it’s a mobile device? As Section 78.1 of the Highway Traffic Act points out, a global positioning system navigation device is a specific exception. But programming your GPS while driving is against the law.

4. Tidy Up Your Vehicle : Remove anything not needed for your trip and secure any loose objects. Sliding objects when you turn a corner or brake firmly can be distracting. And dangerous.

5. Prepare the Kids and Yourself : Make sure children have everything they need at hand – reading materials, toys, food and drink – before you go. And make sure you’re ready, too – including having all your personal grooming done before you get behind the wheel.

6. Secure Pets : If you don’t have a crate or a car barrier, consider purchasing a car harness or even a car seat to prevent your pet from jumping around in the vehicle. Keeping your pet restrained is important to both your safety and that of your pet.

7. Pre-set Climate Control and Radio : Okay, you’re finally almost ready to go. One more thing: ensure that your radio pre-sets are selected and that your climate control is set up before you pull out of the driveway.

8. Make a Passenger a Co-pilot : If you’ve got a passenger beside you, allow them to help you focus on driving. This can range from assisting with directions to selecting music to opening beverages for you.

9. Don’t Eat and Drive : While an open coffee or drink sitting next to you in a cup holder shouldn’t be much of a distraction, don’t eat or drink anything that requires you to open or unwrap it or otherwise distract you. Don’t even think of trying to eat that big and messy burger or ice cream cone while you’re behind the wheel.

10. Concentrate and Drive Actively : Scan the road. Keep checking your mirrors. Keeping two hands on the wheel will not only give you better control but results in less fatigue. Don’t let roadside activities – whether it’s a yard sale or a sign-waving clown – distract you.

11. Take Breaks : As a general rule, you should stop at least every two hours to take a break from driving. Not only can you get necessary fuel for you, your fellow passengers, and your vehicle, but the rest and movement can help you can reenergize and refocus on the remainder of your trip.

You Have a Choice – Choose NOT to Be Distracted

You have a choice when you get behind the wheel. Make a smart choice and choose to NOT drive while distracted. Put the phone away and focus on the road.

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