Most drivers in Ontario have had first-hand experience with a texting-while-driving incident, whether they were held up at an intersection by a driver who was texting and not paying attention when it was their turn to proceed, or perhaps they, themselves, were texting while driving or while stopped at a traffic light.
Using a hand-held device to text or talk is illegal under the Highway Traffic Act, unless you have pulled over and turned off your vehicle. In fact, even touching your phone or laptop is illegal while driving, which includes having the phone on your lap. The minimum fine in Ontario for a driver caught using an electronic device is $490 and three demerit points on their licence. If a driver is found texting or taking on their phone three times, they face a suspended driver’s licence.
Although only hand-held devices are illegal while driving, multiple studies have shown that hands-free devices are almost as distracting for drivers, as hand-held devices. While it’s frustrating to find yourself waiting at an intersection for a driver to finish their phone call or texting, a far more serious issue is the danger that distracted drivers pose for everyone else on the road when they talk or text while negotiating through traffic. Yet, the frequency of serious injury and death resulting from drivers who are using their cellular phone while driving has markedly increased in the past decade, despite the public awareness campaigns and stricter penalties that hope to curb such actions.
One such incident involved a 22-year-old Windsor man who caused the death of a motorcyclist and was, as a result, convicted of the charge of criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle. The accident occurred when the young driver of an Infinity was speeding on E.C. Row Expressway in Windsor, until he caught up to a motorcycle which was being driven at a lawful speed. As they approached an interchange, the Infinity violently struck the rear of the motorcycle, causing both vehicles to careen into the guardrail and spin out onto the grassy medium. The accident resulted in fatal injuries to the motorcyclist.
The Infinity driver admitted that he had been texting while driving and did not see the motorcycle on the road. He also registered a ‘fail’ on a roadside screening test and the results of the Intoxilyzer test at the police station registered 82 mg. and 70 mg. of alcohol, respectively, in 100 ml. of blood. The driver was charged with impaired operation of a motor vehicle, but that charge was later dropped.
According to the Infinity’s data recorder, the car was travelling at 190 km/hr just prior to impact with the motorcycle. The judge pointed out that the ability to take evasive action for an unexpected event is severely compromised at such speed, yet the driver chose that time to take his eyes and attention off the road to compose a test message. The judge asserted that this action “is reckless behaviour in the extreme, and displays a wonton disregard for the safety of others on the road”.
In a 2016 trial, R. v. Cassady, the driver was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison and a 5-year driving suspension. In his decision on sentencing, the judge acknowledged that the young driver took full responsibility and was genuinely deeply remorseful for his actions. Nevertheless, the judge stated that, given the current prevalence of such incidents, it is “of critical importance…to get the message out to the public that these are choices that must not be made, and that there will be serious consequences to drivers who choose to take these risks, where other people are killed or injured as a result”. Getting this message out is of particular importance for young people “for whom a smart phone has virtually become an additional appendage”.
Losing a loved one due to a negligent driving action is clearly devastating for the family of the accident victim, and in many cases, loved ones never fully recover from their loss. In the case of the aforementioned Windsor accident, the motorcyclist was a father and a husband, and was acting as a caregiver to his wife of almost 40 years, who is in a wheelchair and disabled. In addition to the huge emotional loss and psychological injuries, the victim’s wife had to give up her home because she cannot maintain it without her husband.
As well as the psychological and emotional costs, families often suffer significant financial losses following the death of a loved one, particularly when the loved one is a family provider. This places an additional burden of stress and financial hardship on surviving family members.
Family members may make a claim for damages for their financial losses and for their loss of companionship and care, against the negligent party who was responsible for the accidental death of their loved one. If you experienced the loss of a family member due to a negligent driver or another negligent action, call an experienced Windsor personal injury lawyer to discuss the facts of your case and find out how we can help you in this difficult time.