Distracted driving is one of the fastest-growing dangers for drivers and pedestrians alike, both in Canada and elsewhere. The risks are high: talking on a cell phone while driving increases the chance of a collision by more than three times, while typing on a cell phone while driving increases the risk of a collision by a factor of six.1 Due to the significant risk factor, both Provincial and Federal legislation acts as a disincentive for Canadians to be tempted by distracted driving.
In Ontario, the penalty for distracted driving ranges depending on whether the individual is a first, second, or third-time offender. First-time offenders can be fined up to $1,000 with three demerit points and a three-day licence suspension. Second-time offenders can be fined up to $2,000 with six demerit points and a seven-day licence suspension, and third-time offenders can be fined up to $3,000 with six demerit points and a thirty-day licence suspension.2
These fines also apply to individuals who are still enrolled in the province’s Graduated Licencing System. Offenders who have yet to receive their full licence will receive longer suspensions, rather than demerit points – a first-time offender will receive a thirty-day licence suspension, a second-time offender will receive a ninety-day licence suspension, while a third-time offender will have their licence cancelled and be removed from the Graduated Licencing System3.
If others are endangered as a result of an offender’s distracted driving, the offender can be charged with careless driving. A charge of careless driving, under section 130 (1) of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act may result in six demerit points, a fine of up to $2,000, a jail term of six months, and a licence suspension of up to two years.4 If an offender causes injury or death as a result of their careless driving, they will receive a fine between $2,000 and $50,000 or they will be imprisoned for a maximum of two years less a day5.
If the instance of distracted driving is found to have been dangerous to the public, the offender can be charged under the Canadian Criminal Code with dangerous driving. This is a significant charge that may result in a jail term of up to ten or fourteen years. This depends on whether bodily harm or a fatality occurred, respectively6.
Under Ontario law, distracted driving constitutes the use of handheld communication and/or entertainment devices, even when the vehicle is stopped at a red light or in traffic. The use of a GPS display screen does not constitute distracted driving, as per the legal definition, if it is built into or securely mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard7. Other distracting activities – including but not limited to changing the radio station, personal grooming, and other actions that take one’s eyes off the road – are not included in the legal definition of distracted driving. However, these activities can still result in a charge for careless or dangerous driving. A good practice for drivers is to err on the side of caution. Even if an activity is not included in the legal definition of distracted driving, it is important to remember the serious consequences for both oneself and anyone involved.
While younger age groups and driver types are more frequently associated with distracted driving, the statistics illustrate that the distracted driving is pervasive amongst all age ranges. Different age groups face different distractions – young adults are more likely to be distracted by their cell phone, while older drivers are more frequently distracted by something outside the vehicle.8 These numbers will likely continue to increase, due to the various ways in which a driver can become distracted.
Technological developments meant to reduce the temptation of distracted driving can still result in a driver taking their focus off of the road. The embedded entertainment systems in many vehicles allow for drivers to send text messages, make phone calls, and even schedule events in their calendar, all while driving. However, these technologies do not eliminate the fallibility of the average driver. Even if you believe that your multitasking abilities are second to none, it is always prudent to leave the high-tech tasks until after your vehicle is safely stopped. A helpful rule of thumb is if a task requires more than the use of a vehicle’s voice command system, it should not be conducted while driving.
Even taking one’s eyes off the road for a second can result in a serious accident. This is especially the case with Canadian winters. Slippery road conditions can result in significantly increased stopping distances. Additionally, blowing snow is likely to reduce a driver’s visibility of other vehicles and pedestrians. Increased stopping distances and decreased visibility is especially important when considering how the survival rate of a pedestrian significantly decreases as a vehicle’s speed on impact increases.
The World Health Organization sets out the importance of paying attention to the road, in the context of minimizing injuries and fatalities when an accident is unavoidable. A pedestrian is 90% likely to survive a collision when the vehicle is moving at 30 kilometers per hour (approximately 19 miles per hour); this percentage reduces to 50% when a vehicle is moving at 50 kilometers per hour (approximately 31 miles per hour), and a pedestrian struck by a vehicle at 80 kilometers per hour (approximately 50 miles per hour).9 These same principles are applicable outside of the context of a collision with a pedestrian – the likelihood of significant injuries in a motor vehicle accident also increases based on the speed that the vehicles are travelling. As such, having an extra second to avoid an accident can be the difference between a close call, a minor injury, or a fatality. Regardless of whether you’re sending a quick text to a loved one, or trying to find that perfect driving playlist, taking your eyes off the road is never worthwhile.
There are many ways that a driver can avoid the temptation of distracted driving. These include turning on “airplane mode” before getting in the car, keeping your phone in the glovebox while driving, or installing an application that silences notifications and prevents messages being sent when moving above a predetermined speed. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for distracted driving – the key is to find out what works for you. Whether you are motivated by ensuring your own safety, the safety of your passengers or avoiding costly fines, eliminating distracted driving is always in your best interest.
If you have been injured in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, call 1-844-RASTIN1(727-8461) for a free consultation with one of our lawyers.
1 Moore, Oliver. ‘Distracted driving is as dangerous a crisis today as impaired driving was decades ago. What are Canadians doing about it?’, The Globe and Mail (2019), online: <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-distracted-driving-prevention-canada/>
2 Distracted driving (April 2019), online: <www.ontario.ca/page/distracted-driving>.
4 Highway Traffic Act, RSO 1990 c H.8, s 130.
6 Criminal Code, RSC 1985 c C-46 s 320.
7Distracted driving (April 2019), online: <www.ontario.ca/page/distracted-driving>.
8 Distracted Driving, Ottawa Police Service, online: <www.ottawapolice.ca/en/safety-and-crime-prevention/Distracted-Driving.apsx>.
9 Speed management: a road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners, Geneva, Global Road Safety Partnership, at 5.