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What You Need to Know About Distracted Driving – The Ultimate Guide

Driving Tips
jason-baxtorJason Baxter

New Distracted Driving Legislation

Driving laws are changing in Ontario! We will take a look at what rules are changing, what fines are increasing, and why these changes are being implemented. We will also provide some useful tips for being safer on the road so you can work on avoiding these fines to begin with.

Over the coming months, Ontario is implementing changes to legislation as part of the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act, passed on June 2, 2015. The aim is to reduce collisions, injuries, and fatalities on Ontario’s roads. Some notable changes to keep in mind include higher penalties for distracted and drug-impaired driving, for not waiting until pedestrians have completely crossed the road before proceeding, and for driving too close to cyclists while passing. A broader range of medical professionals will be able to identify and report medically unfit drivers, and drivers who have not paid their traffic fines can be denied license plate renewal. These offences include speeding, improper lane changing, illegal turns, and driving with no insurance.

We will especially focus on problems related to distracted driving, as it is one of the most prominent and recent issues on today’s roads. Distracted driving is the practice of driving a vehicle while being engaged in another activity, but this typically means being distracted by technology. The use of cellphones (for texting and calling) and scrolling through iPods and audio devices are the most common culprits. In this post, we will address the following questions:

Are there any exemptions to the Distracted Driving Law? What devices can I use safely and legally?

• You can use hand-held devices for calling, texting, and scrolling if you are pulled off the roadway or parked.
• If you have an earpiece, headset, or Bluetooth device (using voice-activated dialling), you can use it only to activate or deactivate it. You CANNOT use it EVER even if it is for setting up a Bluetooth or hands-free device. You are only allowed to press one button to ACTIVATE the Bluetooth device and definitely not the phone. You are only allowed to press the button on the Bluetooth device to engage or end a call. You cannot dial a number or scroll through contacts while driving.
• You can use a GPS, as long as you have input the navigation information before you start driving and not during the drive. The GPS cannot obscure the driver’s view of the road once it’s set up in the vehicle.
• You can use portable media players like iPods and MP3s, but again only if the music has be pre-programmed and there is no need for scrolling.
• You are allowed to have display screens built into the vehicle for safety reasons, such as for collision avoidance or weather information, and audio devices with screens that display still images such as an MP3 player showing the name of the artist and song playing.

What if there is an emergency while I’m driving and I need to call 911?

• You are allowed to use a hand-held phone to call an emergency number while driving, but there are some ways to lower the risk. If a situation like this occurs, pull over if at all possible. If pulling over is not a possibility, let the person on the other end know that you are driving and be as brief as possible.


What You Need to Know

Distracted driving includes operating any hand-held devices while driving, or viewing display screens unrelated to your driving. Hand-held devices include cell phones, iPods, GPS and MP3 players, smart phones, laptops, and DVD players. For exemptions from the distracted driving law, see our previous post. Distracted driving is not just a technological problem; trying to accomplish any task while driving means that the driver is not paying attention to the road.

Currently, you can be charged between $60 and $500 for distracted driving offences, but fines are due to jump to a minimum $300 and maximum $1,000 charge. Additionally, three demerit points are given out if you are convicted of a distracted driving offence. Distracted driving has also been added to the list of novice driver conditions, which are applicable to drivers with a class G1 or G2 license (or an M1 or M2 license).

For Drunk Driving:

Drunk driving penalties will remain similar to current penalties, but repeat offenders may have to complete an alcohol education program, complete with treatment and monitoring.

For Encounters with Pedestrians and Cyclists

Drivers must allow pedestrians to completely cross the road at school and pedestrian crossings before moving forward (currently, you only have to wait until the pedestrian crosses your half of the road). Cyclists are allowed to use paved shoulders on unrestricted highways, and drivers must keep a minimum distance of one metre between them and the cyclist when passing. For “dooring” a cyclist (which is opening your car door when a cyclist is approaching, causing them to crash into it), a driver can currently be charged between $60 and $500. This has been increased to $300 minimum and $1,000 maximum, as well as a penalty of three demerit points. Take a look in your mirror before opening your car door!

For Cyclists in Traffic:

Fines have increased for cyclists who fail to use required bike lights and reflective equipment; it used to be a maximum charge of $20, but is has increased to a fine between $60 and $500 depending on the severity. Make sure that drivers and pedestrians can see you when you are riding at night time and avoid these fines! Cyclists are allowed to use flashing red lights as a safety feature.


5 Ways to Avoid Distracted Driving Charges

We’ve all been guilty of fumbling around with precariously perched items, buzzing electronics, or excited dogs/children while driving, especially when we are in a panicked-induced state of mind. In this modern age where everything we do seems to be distracted, how can we cut down on distracted driving? Here are five easy tips:

  1. Set up your electronics in advance. In this modern world, it’s not a difficult task to create a driving playlist, pre-set your favourite radio stations, let people know that you’re about to leave and that you’ll arrive in 10 minutes, and input your GPS information before you start driving. Besides making you safer on the road, setting up your electronics is better for your state of mind. If you are already late, trying to set your GPS and simultaneously stop the country music from blaring while driving is not very fun.
  2. Take away the temptation. If you can’t handle the temptation to check that text you definitely heard coming from your bag, just turn off the phone before you start driving. Everyone is going to be just fine if they don’t hear from you for the length of time it takes you to get from point A to point B. If someone calls you, they will leave a message. There are very few instances (except for in spy movie scenes) where someone needs important information in the next minute or else the bomb will go off.
  3. Rely on a passenger. If you have a passenger with you, excellent! Give them some jobs to do. They can tell you what those texts you’re just dying to read are saying. They can hold the coffees, answer phone calls, change the music, entertain children with a puppet show, offer a lap to your puppy, and be responsible for navigating when the GPS leads you to a cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere.
  4. Take the time to foresee problems you might have. Instead of leaping into your car and peeling off like you’ve just committed a crime, take a second to think about problems that might arise during the drive. For instance, if you know that your dog is probably going to try and sit on your lap, contain him in the back seat. Instead of tossing Great Aunt Mildred’s birthday cake haphazardly onto the front seat where you’re going to have to rescue it in a tight corner, find it a better location before this happens. Is your toddler too smart for his own good and getting pretty good at unbuckling himself? Think of a way to prevent that from happening before the ride.
  5. Pullover, already. Realize that pulling over for five minutes isn’t going to cause the world to collapse in upon itself. What if you’re already embarrassingly late for a meeting or a surprise party when someone calls or you find yourself at a dead-end road thanks to that Australian woman on your GPS? You’re already late, so just pull over to answer the important call and re-evaluate your route. Being a distracted driver not only makes you a danger on the road, but turns a stressful situation into something much worse. Taking a second to regroup will save you more time and allow you to think more clearly when you’re in a tight situation.

Increasing Death Tolls & Other Consequences

Distracted driving is becoming a more prevalent problem on today’s roads, and more responsible for crashes than ever before. If you consider yourself a multi-tasking genius, taking a look at some statistics will turn you off distracted driving. It only takes one second of distraction to miss something important; the guy slamming on his breaks in front of you, the cyclist taking a hard left across your lane of traffic, or the pedestrian stepping out into traffic without a pedestrian walk. It’s the driver’s responsibility to be aware enough to react to unforeseen events on the road ahead. 

The number of distracted driving-related incidents in Ontario are staggering. There have officially been more distracted driving deaths on the road this year than deaths linked to impaired driving, according to provincial police. In fact, distracted driving fatalities are probably going to outnumber impaired driving deaths for the seventh year in a row.

CBC reports that in Ontario, about a quarter of fatal crashes were caused by distracted driving (12 out of 51 total fatal crashes). In five of those incidents, it was the distracted driver at fault who died. Three of the incidents involved a pedestrian being struck by a vehicle manned by an inattentive driver. Pedestrians are the most vulnerable to distracted driving incidents, as they will always come off worse for wear in an accident involving a vehicle. They represent about one in five motor vehicle-related fatalities in Ontario, and almost half of those occur at intersections. Here, pedestrians have the right of way, but distracted drivers are capable of blowing through stop signs and red lights, or just being unaware of a person crossing the street at a pedestrian walk or otherwise.

The penalties for being caught driving distracted have recently been increased to include demerit points as well as a monetary charge. Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) suggests to everyone to spread the word about distracted driving before getting into a situation yourself. “We want to see everyone develop and maintain a complete intolerance for distracted driving and make it the socially unacceptable driving behavior that it should be,” says Chuck Cox, commander of the OPP Highway Safety Division. There are some easy ways to play a part in stopping distracted driving. First, stop doing it yourself and set an example. Check out the OneTap app, which automatically fields your calls and texts when it detects you are driving. It mutes calls and texts, and sends a text to the caller indicating that you are currently driving. If you are in a car with someone who is driving distracted, realize that they are risking lives (yours included), and offer to check their text message or change the music for them. Let them know it’s unsafe to drive this way, and that you’re uncomfortable.

That concludes our post about changing traffic laws in Ontario! Be a smart and vigilant driver. As always, if you end up with a traffic ticket, contact us ASAP through our site or by texting your ticket directly to us for a free consultation. We’ll let you know what your best options are.


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