Distracted driving comes with risks and penalties

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Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving — including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, or fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system.

Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph (about 90 km/h), that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

CAA reports that more than 90% of Canadians said people who use their phones while driving is a serious threat. Yet, almost half of Canadians have programmed a destination on their GPS or mobile device while driving.

truck driver with cell phone
(Photo: istock)

It isn’t the only distraction. Nearly eight in 10 (79%) drivers admit to doing something while driving that is distracting, CAA says. Among the most dangerous distractions are in-vehicle technologies, like a driver’s phone, a car’s console, or voice-activated features.

According to data from Transport Canada’s National Collision Database, distracted driving contributed to an estimated 21% of fatal collisions and 27% of serious injury collisions in 2016. These statistics are part of an upward trend of distracted driving-related collisions, up from 16% of fatal collisions and 22% of serious injury collisions a decade earlier.

Ontario distracted driving penalties

In Ontario the distracted driving penalties changed effective Jan. 1, 2019.

For fully licensed drivers, a first conviction nets a fine of up to $1,000, three demerit points, and a three-day licence suspension. A second conviction within five years leads to a $2,000 fine, six demerit points, and seven-day licence suspension. A third or subsequent conviction within five years sees a $3,000 fine, six demerit points, and 30-day licence suspension.

It’s against the law to use handheld communication and electronic entertainment devices while driving in the province. These include phones, iPods, iPads, tablets, DVD players, and e-readers. Even holding your phone or other device while driving is against the law.

Case shows wearable tech is distracting

In today’s world of ever-evolving technology, and wearable technology, devices such as Apple watches and other smart watches could also be considered distracting devices. In R. v. Ambrose,  Victoria Ambrose was driving her motor vehicle on South Ring Road in Guelph, Ont., when a University of Guelph police officer noticed the glow of a device she was using. Stopping directly beside her, the officer watched Ambrose look up and down at the device about four times.

The officer testified that Ambrose didn’t move forward when the light turned green – even though the two cars in front of her did.

The driver, who was using an Apple watch, was charged under section 78.1(1) of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and found guilty of distracted driving.

“The key to determining this matter is distraction. It is abundantly clear from the evidence that Ms. Ambrose was distracted when the officer made his observations,” the court found. “Despite the Apple watch being smaller than a cellular phone, on the evidence it is a communication device capable of receiving and transmitting electronic data. While attached to the defendant’s wrist it is no less a source of distraction than a cell phone taped to someone’s wrist.”

Ambrose testified she was merely checking the time, which required touching the watch screen, and that the device was not connected to her phone. The court did not believe her, and found that she was holding and using the device.

Risks of distracted driving

Compared to personal motorists, commercial truck drivers are 23 times more likely to cause an accident when texting at the wheel, seven times more likely when reaching for their electronic devices, and six times more likely when dialing a phone, according to the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“Trucking businesses have more advanced technology and safety cultures than ever before to reduce risks for drivers and the motorists around them, but it continues to be a challenge for risk managers to enforce mobile phone policies,” notes Gary Flaherty, Nationwide’s senior vice-president – E&S commercial auto.

And the penalties are not limited to drivers alone.

In Ontario, any driver convicted of an offence under a company’s CVOR number will result in a record of conviction against the company as well. This CVOR record can then impact the employer’s insurance costs as well as create problems between the company and the Ministry of Transportation.

A carrier will receive three CVOR points if its driver is convicted of distracted driving. And Crown prosecutors in Ontario will not negotiate pleas involving distracted driving offences.

Each province in Canada has its own legislation, too.

Distracted driving penalties by province

B.C. — Use of electronic devices while driving — $368 minimum fine. Can’t use two earbuds connected to a phone, even if off.

Alberta — Widest scope of distracted driving behaviors — $300 minimum fine. If you’re distracted by your dog, you can get a ticket.

Saskatchewan — Use or touch a cell phone while driving — $580 minimum fine. Can be charged for eating, smoking, grooming, operating a GPS, reading maps, and interacting with pets for passengers.

Manitoba — Use of a handheld electronic device — $672 minimum fine.

Ontario – Use of any handheld device (unless 911 call or hands free) — $615 minimum fine. Eating, drinking and grooming are not listed in the legislation but can still be considered “distracted” driving.

Quebec — Operating and holding any handheld portable device (phones, tablets, laptops, media players) while driving or stopped at a red light (unless calling 911) — $300 minimum fine. You can also be fined $100 to $200 if caught wearing earphones or headphones in both ears while driving.

New Brunswick — Texting, calling, programming GPS, or touching electronic devices (unless calling 911) — Minimum $172.50 fine.

Nova Scotia — Texting or operating any handheld device (unless calling 911) — Minimum $233.95 fine.

PEI — Using a cell phone, laptop, GPS or other handheld device — Minimum $575 fine.

Newfoundland and Labrador — Holding or operating a handheld device, or driving with a television in front of a driver’s seat — Minimum $300 fine.

Northwest Territories — Using handheld devices — Minimum $322 fine, or $644 in a school zone.

Yukon — Holding or operating a cell phone or handheld electronic device — Minimum $500 fine.

Nunavut — No formal penalties — Minimum fine of $115 for careless driving if caught texting and driving.

  • Rui Fernandes is a partner at Gardiner Roberts LLP

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  • Just the screen on most car s or trucks are just as dangerous as most phones, should go back to couple knots,turn heat up or down ,and radio .