Distracted Driving by: Mary De Rose

Various studies reveal that in Ontario deaths from collisions caused by distracted driving have doubled since the year 2000.  Ontario data on collisions from 2013 reveal that one person is injured in a distracted driving collision every half hour. In addition, a driver using a phone is four times more likely to crash than a driver focusing on the road. In this article, I will discuss what counts as distracted driving in Ontario, what penalties are currently in place for distracted drivers, how to avoid distracted driving and lastly how the Ontario Government and the automotive industry could work together in an effort to help put an end to distracted driving altogether.

 

Being a personal injury lawyer in Ontario, on a daily basis I help victims that have been catastrophically injured in accidents caused by distracted drivers. In my practice, at least 90 percent of the accident victims I represent, were involved in accidents caused by distracted drivers.

 

It is important to understand what counts as distracted driving in Ontario.  Distracted driving laws in Ontario apply specifically to the use of hand-held communication devices and display screens.  While you are driving, including when you are stopped at a red light, it is illegal to do the following:

 

a) use a phone or other hand-held wireless communication device to text, or dial;

b) use a hand- held electronic entertainment device, such as a tablet, or portable gaming console and

c) view display screens unrelated to driving, or manually program a GPS device.

 

 While the above- mentioned hand-held devices and display screens are illegal, you are allowed to use hands free wireless communication devices with an earpiece, lapel button, or bluetooth. You can view GPS screens as long as they are built into your vehicle’s dashboard, or securely mounted on the dashboard. A vehicle must be stopped and in park position, prior to imputing any information into a GPS system. Other actions such as eating, drinking, grooming, smoking, reading and reaching for objects are not part of Ontario’s distracted driving law, however, you can still be charged with careless, or dangerous driving.

 

The penalties for distracted driving in Ontario appear harsh, but apparently not harsh enough to stop people from breaking the law when it comes to distracted driving. If you are convicted with distracted driving, the penalty you face depends on the kind of license you hold and how long you’ve been driving. If you hold an A,B,C,D,E,F,G and/or M license, you’ll face bigger penalties for distracted driving. For a first conviction, a fine of $615.00 is payable if settled out of court. Up to $1000 is payable if a summons is received, or if you fight the ticket in court and lose. You receive three (3) demerit points and your license could be suspended for three (3) days.  If you receive a second conviction, a fine of $615.00 is payable, if settled out of court.  A fine of up to $2000 is payable, if a summons is received, or if you fight the ticket in court and lose. You receive Six (6) demerit points and your license could be suspended for seven (7) days.  A third, or further conviction, could result in a $615.00 fine, if settled out of court. A fine of up to $3000 is payable, if a summons is received, or if you fight the ticket in court and lose. You receive six (6) demerit points and your license could be suspended for thirty (30) days.  If you hold a G1, G2, M1, or M2 license, and you are convicted of distracted driving, you’ll face the same fines as drivers with A-G licenses. You will not receive any demerit points, but rather you’ll face longer suspensions. A 30day, 90day, or cancellation of your license altogether and removal from the graduated licensing system. To get your license back, you will have to re-take the GLS program.

 

In the event you are charged with distracted driving, you can face further charges of careless driving, or dangerous driving. The rational being that the distraction endangered other people. If convicted of careless driving, you may receive six (6) demerit points, additional fines of $2000, and/or a jail term of six (6) months and a license suspension of up to two years.  If convicted of dangerous driving, that is considered a criminal offence. The conviction of dangerous driving carries heavier penalties, including jail term of up to 10 years for causing bodily harm, or up to 14 years for causing death.

 

Despite what the law says distracted drivers continue to exist. In my opinion, advancements in communication technology are partly to blame for the increase in accidents caused by distracted drivers.  Technology as it pertains to cell phones and ipads and other electronic devices, have helped to make communication between people accessible and endless, no matter where you are in the world. People rely heavily on these devices as a constant means of communication for work, travel and social media. People are creatures of habit and as such, will often repeatedly rely on and use these devices as methods of communication while driving. The old proverb ‘old habits die hard’ sums up how we find making changes in our lives, so difficult. Having a habit defers responsibility for our actions.  Ex. My work often texts, or emails me, therefore I must always check my cell phone when a text, or email comes in, no matter where I am, or what I am doing.

 

In an attempt to break bad habits and punish people for distracted driving, the law put in place penalties for distracted drivers. The penalties in place however do not appear to be driving down the numbers of deaths caused by distracted drivers. Perhaps harsher penalties with a harsher reality need to be in place. Perhaps the Government and automotive industry can come together and create a device where a cell phone or any electronic device shuts off with the start of a vehicle’s engine. Whether this is possible remains to be seen. In the interim, I offer up the following advice when getting into a vehicle.

  1. Turn off, or switch to silent, your cell phone, or electronic device, prior to getting into your vehicle.

  2. In the alternative, place your electronic device in a place you cannot get to, while driving.

  3. Before you enter your vehicle, record a message telling drivers you are driving and will return their call as soon as you exit your vehicle. 

 

Distracted driving remains a serious problem in Ontario. Despite various laws and penalties implemented by the Ontario Government, the number of deaths that result from collisions involving distracted drivers rises each year. People continue to drive and use electronic devices.  Perhaps there is a lot of truth to the saying that old habits die hard and because of that, the choice to use an electronic device while driving shouldn’t be afforded to anyone. The automotive industry and Government need to work together to implement a solution that make it impossible to operate an electronic device when driving in a motor vehicle.

 

 

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