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Distracted driving fines and penalties on the rise

Posted: January 2, 2019 by John G. Smith

Ontario is the latest jurisdiction to increase penalties associated with distracted driving.

TORONTO, Ont. – Ontario has become the latest province to increase fines and other penalties associated with distracted driving, complete with the heavy hammer of licence suspensions.

As of Jan. 1, first convictions carry fines of $615 to $1,000 – depending on whether a ticket is settled out of court, or fought in court and lost – along with three demerit points and a three-day licence suspension.

Repeat offenders face additional penalties. The maximum fine for a second conviction lost in court is now $2,000, and that’s accompanied by six demerit points and a seven-day licence suspension. Third and subsequent convictions carry maximum fines of up to $3,000, six demerit points, and 30-day licence suspensions.

The changes come just two months after Manitoba increased driving penalties to include three-day licence suspensions and $672 fines of its own.

Simply holding a cell phone or device like a tablet while driving will run afoul of the Ontario law. Before wheels begin to turn, drivers are expected to program addresses into any GPS units or activate the playlists on any portable media players.

Exceptions to the rules include calling 911 during an emergency, or using mobile devices when lawfully parked or safely pulled off the roadway and not impeding traffic. Sitting at a traffic light doesn’t count. Commercial drivers are also allowed to view the displays on mobile data, tracking and dispatching devices.

Handheld CB radios can be used under an exemption that’s in place to 2021.

Drivers can also view displays on collision avoidance systems, or an “instrument, gauge or system that provides information on the conditions, use and immediate environment of the vehicle or that provides road or weather information.”

The cost of distracted driving

But the message is clear: It’s best to keep your eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel.

Distracted driving is blamed on one injury every half hour in Ontario, and the province’s transportation ministry says drivers who are using a phone are four times more likely to crash than someone focused on the road.

Inattentive drivers were blamed for 91 Ontario traffic fatalities in 2016,  according to the most recent Ontario Road Safety Annual Report. And Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) recorded 11,086 distracted driving accidents in its province that year, up from 2,415 in 2011.

Commercial drivers who are dialing a mobile phone are six times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event like a crash, near crash, or lane deviation, according to research commissioned by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Those who are texting were 23.2 times more likely than their peers to be involved in such events.

Drivers who were dialing a cell phone were found to take their eyes off the road for an average of 3.8 seconds – enough time to cover the length of a football field when traveling at 90 km/h.

In the U.S., commercial motor vehicle drivers can face fines up to $2,750 for using handheld mobile phones while at the wheel. Employers who require drivers to use handheld communications devices at the wheel face the threat of $11,000 fines.

Before Quebec increased distracted driving fines last summer, enforcement teams in Montreal actually rolled around in a motor coach to get a better view of drivers using cell phones. “Most people now use their cell phones on their thighs,” explained Controle Routier Quebec spokeswoman Marie-Josee Michaud.

Distracted driving penalties

In addition to fines and other penalties introduced by Ontario and Manitoba, distracted driving laws in other Canadian jurisdictions include:

  • Quebec – Fines of $300 to $600 and four demerit points. Licences are suspended for three days for the first repeat offence, seven days for the second repeat offence, and 30 days for the third. Before the fines were doubled to these levels last year, enforcement teams in Montreal actually rolled around in a motor coach to get a better view of drivers using cell phones. “Most people now use their cell phones on their thighs,” explained Controle Routier Quebec spokeswoman Marie-Josee Michaud.
  • B.C. — $543 fines for a first offence (including an ICBC Driver Penalty Point premium) and $888 for a second offence, with four demerit points. Drivers with two or more distracted driving convictions in a three-year period are charged an annual Driver Risk Premium that increases for each conviction. Experienced drivers who incur more than two infractions in a year are considered high risk, and after a review can see a driving ban of three to 12 months.
  • Alberta – a $287 fine and three demerit points. The province recorded 139,579 convictions between Sept. 1, 2011 — when its distracted driving legislation was first introduced — and March 31, 2017. Young men between the ages of 22 and 34 experience the highest conviction rates.
  • Saskatchewan — $280 fine and four demerit points.
  • New Brunswick — $172.50 fine and three demerit points.
  • Nova Scotia — $233.95 fines for a first offence, $348 for a second offence, and $578.95 for a third offence, along with four demerit points on a conviction.
  • P.E.I. – Fines of $575 to $1,275 and five demerit points on conviction.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – Fines of $350 to $1,000 and four demerit points.
  • Yukon — $500 fines and three demerit points.
  • Northwest Territories – Fines of $322 to $644 and three demerit points. The highest fines apply in school and construction zones.
  • Nunavut — While it has no distracted driving fines at this time, a spokesman with Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation tells Today’s Trucking that penalties are expected to be introduced later in 2019.



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