Distracted and Impaired Drivers now face tougher Laws in Ontario

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on January 10, 2019

Distracted driving, impaired driving and speeding are the three leading causes of fatal accidents in Canada. With the introduction and prevalence of cell phone usage, distracted driving has become even more of a serious concern and now exceeds drunk driving and speeding as the leading cause of fatal motor vehicle accidents in Ontario.  Drunk driving is the leading cause of criminal deaths.  

To combat and hopefully reduce the number of drunk driving and distracted driving accidents, changes to driving laws were recently enacted on both the national and provincial level.  With Bill C-46, changes to impaired driving laws became effective in Canada’s Criminal Code on December 18.  And, on January 1st, under Ontario’s Bill 174 which governs the sale of recreational marijuana in the province, Ontario enacted tougher penalties for drivers convicted of distracted driving.

Distracted Driving Penalties increase for Ontario drivers

Distracted or inattentive driving involves any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the road.  And, there is ample research to prove that even short periods of distraction of a few seconds result in reduced reaction time and impaired judgement, and create a greater likelihood of being involved in a crash and injuring yourself, passengers and other road users.

Some of the most common activities which distract drivers are: talking or texting on a phone, reading maps or books, drinking and eating, adjusting the GPS, personal grooming, changing a radio station or CD, and smoking.  Any person found to be using a hand-held device while driving, even when stopped at a stop light, could be charged with distracted driving.

And, be aware that under Ontario law, drivers can be charged not only for using cell phones while driving, but for using any hand-held electronic device. In May 2018, a Guelph student was convicted of distracted driving after an officer observed her looking at her Apple Watch screen and this caused her to delay in advancing into an intersection when the traffic light turned green.  The judge agreed that the women’s action constituted distracted driving and she was accordingly fined $400.

Under the changed law, Ontario drivers with an A to G licence who are convicted of distracted driving for the first time, after being caught texting or talking on a hand-held device or found to be committing another distracted driving action, now face a maximum fine of $1000, 3 demerit points and a 3-day licence suspension.

For distracted driving, licence suspension begins after a conviction rather than at the roadside.  Also, be aware that at distracted driving ticket can also result in an increase in your automobile insurance rates for 3 years.  

The penalties have also been increased for repeat offenders.  Someone convicted of distracted driving a second time within 5 years, faces a maximum fine of $2000, 6 demerit points and a 7-day licence suspension.  With a 3rd conviction, the fine increases to $3000, with a 30-day licence suspension and 6 demerit points on your licence.

The fines for novice drivers are the same; however, novice drivers will receive longer licence suspensions: 30 days for the 1st conviction, 90 days for a 2nd conviction, and cancellation of your licence for a third conviction. 

Canada enacts Bill C-46 to better detect and enforce impaired driving

In 2018, Canada enacted two major changes to the Criminal Code. With Bill C-46, the first change defined a clear legal framework for controlling cannabis production, sale, distribution and possession. The second part of the legislation created a simpler, more efficient and more effective system for deterring and processing drug and alcohol impaired driving offences.  

The Bill C-46 changes to Canada’s drunk driving laws became effective on December 18th.  Under the new legislation, when police pull over a driver for a traffic violation, they   may demand that a driver submit to a roadside Breathalyzer test without having reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver had consumed alcohol, as was previously required.  Mandatory alcohol screening is expected to have the greatest impact on the detection and prosecution of impaired drivers who, it is believed, were not identified by police in as many as 50 percent of roadside stops prior to the change in law.

So, if you’re pulled over for any lawful reason, such as failing to update your vehicle licence sticker or talking on your cell phone, police have the authority to also demand that you provide a breath sample.  And, if you don’t agree to the Breathalyzer test or give a blood sample, you are subject to a criminal charge for refusing to comply with a demand and you face a mandatory minimum fine of $2000.

Other mandatory minimum fines and maximum penalties were also increased with Bill C-46.  For first offenders, the mandatory minimum fine did not change for a BAC of .08 to .119, but the minimum fine was increased to $1500 for a BAC between .120 and .159, and to $2000 for those with a BAC .160 or greater.  And, in cases where there was no injury or death, the maximum penalty for impaired driving has increased to 2 years less a day (up from 18 months) for a summary conviction, and to 10 years (up from 5 years) if indicted.  And, for dangerous driving causing death, the maximum penalty has been increased to life imprisonment (previously 14 years was the maximum), which is consistent with the penalty for other driving-related offences involving death.

Another significant change in the law governing alcohol-related driving offences is an expanding of the time period during which drivers may not have a BAC over the legal limit.  Now, a driver may not exceed the legal limit of alcohol consumption within 2 hours of driving.  This change is directed at eliminating risky behaviours, notably, bolus drinking and intervening drinking.  Bolus drinking is the act of consuming alcohol immediately before driving with the hope of reaching your destination before the alcohol was absorbed into your blood.  Intervening drinking involves drivers who claim that they drank alcohol to settle their nerves or for another reason after they were driving and/or involved in an accident, but before undergoing a blood test.   

For anyone who wasn’t previously convinced of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or using your cell phone while driving, it is hoped that the stricter laws for driving-related offences are an added incentive to drive safe.  Avoiding drinking and driving generally only requires planning ahead and arranging alternative transportation. And, with respect to distracted driving, it’s a matter of making a conscious decision to not check or use our cell phones while driving, and instead, pull over if there is anything we need to do which takes our full attention off the road.  For those of us who find it difficult not to check our phones, we should consider turning our phone off while driving or leave it on the back seat where it can’t be reached.

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