New distracted driving penalties take effect in Ontario on Sept. 1

A man texting on a cellphone while driving.
A man texting on a cellphone while driving. Stock photo by Getty Images.

Every move you make, every driving law you break. The Ontario government is more vigilant about making our roads safe. Just recently there has been a police crackdown on distracted drivers in Ottawa, perhaps as a pre-cursor to the new distracted driving penalties taking effect on Sept. 1.

The recent crackdown in Ottawa was dubbed the “Leave the Phone Alone” campaign and was designed to make drivers aware that it’s unacceptable to use cell phones, or be otherwise distracted while driving.

See: Distracted driving FAQ

This is a taste of what is to come once the new law is in place. Penalties are going to be a lot steeper, with an increase in both fines and demerit points.

See: Distracted driving penalties by province

In Ontario the fine for distracted driving used to be $280 and no demerit points. That is if you were stopped by police without having injured anyone. If you were involved in an accident and criminally charged, the penalties were much harsher with possibility of jail time and a licence suspension.

Now, when stopped by police and fined for distracted driving without victims, the minimum fine is going to be almost $500 — $400 plus a $90 victim surcharge. A judge has the discretion bump it up further to $1,000 if the case goes to court.

As well as the fine, you could lose three demerit points. It gets worse for less experienced drivers, who could face a 30-day licence suspension.

See: Traffic report laws can’t distract drivers from cellphones.

These new penalties, courtesy of the Making Roads Safer Act, were approved in June. They are a response to reports that found, despite public awareness campaigns and the danger distracted driving presents on its own, people continue to use cell phones while they drive and practise other dangerous behaviour while on the road.

The Ministry of Transportation has released research that showed drivers who were distracted while on the road were four times more likely to be in an accident.

The Ontario Provincial Police released fatality numbers for 2014 for accidents that were caused through distracted driving. It reported that 288 people died because of the use of cell phones, GPS, and other electronic devices while operating a vehicle.

Additionally, charges will also be laid for something called “dooring,” when a driver or passenger opens their car door into the path of a cyclist. “Dooring” will result in a $300 fine.

Furthermore, cars that don’t maintain a one-metre distance when passing cyclists will be fined $85.

Cyclists are also going to have to start paying attention to the law. Those riding bicycles without proper lights and not wearing reflective material will also face $85 fines.

Word out there is British Columbia intends to follow Ontario’s example of increasing fines for distracted drivers.

So, put away that cell phone, iPod, poodle, or sandwich and enjoy the drive undistracted.

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