As part of the new Bill 31 – called the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act – drivers will now be fined $490 and receive three demerit points for driving while distracted.
This comes on the heels of a province-wide crackdown on distracted driving, meant to curb what many are calling a distracted driving “epidemic” on Ontario roads.
Since March 2010, about 91,000 distracted driving tickets have been written by police in Toronto alone – this new law aims to urge drivers to put down their phones and take road safety seriously.
The New Law
Beginning today, September 1st 2015, the minimum fine for distracted driving will be raised from $280 to $490. What’s more, the new law adds demerit points into the equation:
- For those who are caught driving distracted and plead guilty, the minimum fine is $490 and 3 demerit points.
- For those who choose to fight their distracted driving fine and are found guilty, fines could be increased up to $1000.
- For novice drivers – those with G1, G2, M1 or M2 licenses – penalties are even more severe:
- For a first infraction, novice drivers face a 30 day license suspension.
- For a second infraction, the license suspension is increased to 90 days.
- For a third infraction, novice drivers caught driving distracted will have their license cancelled completely, and will have to complete the graduated driving program all over again.
Driving distracted isn’t the only focus of the new law, however:
- Motorists who hit a cyclist or another vehicle with their car door will now face a stiffer penalty – a minimum of $365 and three demerit points, up from the previous minimum fine of $60.
- Motorists will also be required to leave at least one metre of space when passing a cyclist – failure to do so will result in a minimum fine of $110 and two demerit points. If this occurs in a community safety zone, the fine is increased to $180.
- Drivers will also be required to slow down and move over for tow trucks stopped on the side of the road, or face a $490 fine.
- Cyclists will now have to pay a minimum fine of $110 for riding without proper reflectors and bike lights, which is up from the previous fine of just $20.
What is Distracted Driving?
While the aim of the new law is clear, many drivers are still confused about what actually constitutes distracted driving. And while the focus of this new law may be on those using electronic devices while driving, distracted driving includes any activity that takes a driver’s eyes off the road.
As Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Dave Rektor explains, “fussing with kids in the back of the car, pushing buttons on a stereo, reaching for something — anything that distracts you from driving” counts as distracted driving.
When it comes to electronic devices, the rules are even more clear-cut. Simply holding a cellphone while driving may leave you with a distracted driving charge.
Tips to Avoid Driving Distracted
In light of this new Ontario law, the best course of action is clear – avoid distracted driving at all costs. No matter how busy you are, or how important that incoming text or phone call is, it’s not worth risking your safety and the safety of other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Some tips to avoid distracted driving include:
- Checking voicemails and messages before you start driving, and allowing calls to go to voicemail while driving.
- Eating before taking to the streets to avoid grabbing a bite to eat behind the wheel.
- Setting up pre-set radio stations and climate control to avoid the distraction of choosing another station or cooling/heating setting.
- Ensuring children and pets are comfortable and are properly fastened in their seats.
Remember: while a distracted driving charge will leave you with stiffer penalties, and may even raise your car insurance premium, the focus of this new law is safety. It’s up to you to help keep Ontario’s roads safe and curb our province’s distracted driving epidemic.