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Tougher distracted driving penalties enacted in Ontario on Sept 1 2015

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation implemented tougher driving penalties in Bill 31 which took effect on Sept 1st 2015, primarily directed at reducing the incidence of distracted driving and cyclist collisions.  Measures are also being taken to improve road safety for tow truck drivers and school buses.  Very disturbing for both Ontario residents and traffic law enforcement is the increasing number of accidents and injuries caused by distracted driving and also to cyclists being struck by automobiles.

Distracted driving is not a ‘charge’ as such; it is a term that describes someone breaking the law by taking their concentration away from the road and the act of driving.  Distracted driving represents a huge cost to Canadians, in terms of lives lost or significantly undermined by serious injuries, vehicle damage, lost productivity and health care costs.   CAA reports that distracted driving is a contributing factor in 80 per cent of collisions and 65 per cent of near accidents. In particular, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation reports that when using a cell phone, drivers are four times more likely to get into an accident, and even taking your eyes of the road for two seconds increases your risk substantially.

The new penalties if convicted of distracted driving are a $490 fine and three demerit points. New drivers will receive a 30-day (minimum) suspension of their licence for the first conviction and increased suspensions for successive convictions. 

It is illegal for drivers in Ontario to text, talk, type or email using any type of hand-held communication device.  In fact, according to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, it is illegal to have a phone, MP3 player or other device in your hands while driving, even if you are not using it. However, drivers may be charged with careless driving if they injure or endanger others while engaged in any type of distracted driving activity, including such activities as using hands-free communication devices, eating with two hands, applying makeup, changing music hardware or reading.  Anyone convicted of careless driving may face as much as a $2000 fine, six demerit points, a two year driving suspension and/or six months in jail (http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/distracted-driving.shtml).

Approximately 1.2 people in Ontario ride a bicycle every day, including children and adults of all ages. If convicted, the fine for ‘dooring’ of cyclists is now $365 plus three demerit points.  Where possible, motor vehicle drivers are now also required to maintain a one-metre distance when passing cyclists; failure to do so may result in a $110 fine and two demerit points.

In response to increasing evidence that deficient bike lighting equipment plays a part in many cycling collisions, the Ontario government has set a fine of $110 for cyclists who do not have bicycle lights and reflectors.  Bicycles are required to be equipped with a white front light and a red rear light or reflector if they are ridden anytime from ½ hour before sunset to ½ hour after sunrise, as well as white reflective tape on the front forks and red reflective tape on the rear forks.

A further change enacted on September 1st involves requiring drivers to keep a safe distance from tow trucks which are providing assistance to vehicles along the road.  A fine of $490 may be given to drivers who do not decrease their speed and move over for tow trucks.  School buses are newly required to be painted only chrome yellow in order to make them clearly recognisable.  No change has been made to the law for drivers who do not stop for a school bus; such drivers may be fined as much as $2000 and lose six demerit points.

These recent changes to Ontario legislation demonstrate that Ontario legislators are serious in their dedication to a reduction in accidents and injuries, particularly those resulting from driver negligence that is largely avoidable.  In a recent crackdown on distracted drivers in Ottawa, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and RCMP ticketed 171 drivers in one day alone.  One of the ticketed drivers remarked that he’d just received a ticket just 10 Minutes prior to being pulled over for using his cellphone.  This incident begs the question, “What does it take for some people to adjust their driving behaviour to conform to safe driving practices?”  The success (or failure) of these tougher penalties, if aggressively enforced by policing, will address this question.

The very real and terrible consequences of motor vehicle accidents that result from distracted driving are evident in Ontario accident reports.  Collisions that result in death or severe injuries such as traumatic brain injury, back and spinal injuries, shattered bones, and serious injuries to the face, are often avoidable but have permanent repercussions to accident victims.  Seriously injured individuals often require long term medical rehabilitation, compensation for lost earnings and therapy for psychological distress.

Anyone seriously injured as a result of a negligent driver or another accident, requires consultation with a personal injury professional to ensure that they receive just compensation for damages, including pain and suffering.  The Injury Lawyers of Ontario (ILO) law team serving Pembroke understands how the time following a serious accident is stressful and difficult for victims and their families.  Our goal is to answer your questions and concerns, and support you as we advance your claim for fair compensation.  Call us today for a free consultation.


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