We’re human beings. We’re not programmed to focus on one specific thing for an extended amount of time. Our minds wander (we can’t help it!). Driving is one of those tasks that require you sit and stare for sometimes hours on end, and it’s so easy to become distracted.
But staying focused on the road isn’t just essential for safety — it’s the law. As of Sept. 1, 2015, the fines and penalties for being convicted of distracted driving in Ontario are severe (don’t worry, we’ll get to that later).
So what is considered distracted driving in Ontario?
Legally speaking, section 78 of the Highway Traffic Act states that no person can drive a motor vehicle if the display screen of television, computer or other device in the motor vehicle is visible to the driver, and section 78.1 prohibits hand-held wireless communication devices.
Seems nice and simple, right? Wrong.
There is a plethora of grey areas here that make distinguishing what’s legal and illegal very difficult.
So we’ve unraveled the mystery for you!
The obvious illegalities are the ones you’d expect:
Using any type of hand-held wireless communications device such as a Smartphone, iPhone or Blackberry to text, dial or e-mail.
Using music-playing entertainment devices such as iPods or other portable MP3 players, as well as portable gaming devices like GameBoys.
Viewing display screens unrelated to driving such as laptops, tablets and DVD players
Programming a GPS by hand, and not by voice-command
Check out this video by AT&T which illustrates how even a glance at your phone can lead to disaster.
When it comes to what you CAN do (legally), it’s all about keeping the hands on the wheel with hands-free capable devices.
But what EXACTLY does “hands-free” mean, legally?
According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, what constitutes “hands-free” is:
“Any device that you do not touch, hold or manipulate while driving, other than to activate or deactivate it. For example, actions such as dialing or scrolling through contacts, or manually programming a GPS device are not allowed.”
So, to break it down, you CAN:
Use hands-free wireless communications devices with an earpiece, lapel button or Bluetooth device
View the display screens of GPS units that are integrated into the vehicle or mounted on a dashboard and not obscuring the driver’s view
Use portable MP3 players hands-free, as long as they’re secured in or mounted to the vehicle
To help you equip a totally hands-free automobile, here’s a list of the top 10 Bluetooth Car Kits of 2016.
Remember earlier we teased the severity of distracted driving in Ontario? Well, wait no longer.
Let us begin with the initial “slap-on-the-wrist”. If you’re convicted of distracted driving, a fully licensed driver, holding any class of licence, will receive:
A fine of $400, plus a victim surcharge and court fee, for a total of $490 if settled out of court
Fine of up to $1,000 if you receive a summons or fight your ticket
Three demerit points applied to your driver’s record
(For a larger scope, here’s a comprehensive list of fines and charges for all provinces as outlined by CAA.)
If you’re a novice driver (subject to the Graduated Licensing program), you’re subject to escalating sanctions:
first occurrence will result in a 30-day licence suspension
second occurrence will result in 90-day licence suspension
licence cancellation and removal from the Graduated Licensing System for a third occurrence
Check out this video of the Ontario government announcing the crack down on cell use while driving.
And now for the most severe consequences that come with endangering others with distracted driving. If you endanger others because of any distraction, including both hand-held and hands-free devices, you can also be charged with careless driving. If convicted, you will automatically receive:
six demerit points
fines up to $2,000 and/or
a jail term of six months
up to two-year licence suspension
You can even be charged with dangerous driving (a criminal offence), with jail terms of up to five years.
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