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When it comes to driving, answering your texts or changing the song can always wait. In the last ten years, Ontario has cracked on distracted driving, in-creasing the penalties for any convictions.

The province adopted the RCMP’s definition of distracted driving:

“Distracted driving is a form of impaired driving as a driver's judgment is compromised when they are not fully focused on the road. Distract-ed driving qualifies as talking on a cell phone, texting, reading (e.g., books, maps, and newspapers), using a GPS, watching videos or movies, eating/drinking, smoking, personal grooming, adjusting the radio/CD and playing extremely loud music. Even talking to passengers and driving while fatigued (mentally and/or physically) can be forms of distracted driving.”

To that end, Section 78 of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act states:

  • No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway if the display screen of a television, computer or other devices in the motor vehicle is visible to the driver.
  • No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a handheld wireless communication device or other prescribed device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, mail or text messages.
  • No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a handheld electronic entertainment device or other prescribed device, the primary use of which is unrelated to the safe operation of the motor vehicle.

However, it goes on to say that a person may drive a motor vehicle on a high-way while using:

  • Voice-activated calling or texting
  • Dashboard/windshield-mounted GPS screen with pre-inputted destinations
  • A pre-activated portable media player plugged into the sound system
  • Safety-related display screens built into the vehicle
  • Ignition interlock devices

What are the penalties in Ontario for distracted driving?

If you’re caught holding your phone while driving to talk, text, email or do any-thing else, you’ll be fined up $1,000, have your licence suspended for three days and be given three demerit points — this will negatively affect your insurance.

A second conviction for distracted driving could land you a $2,000 fine, a seven-day licence suspension, and six demerit points. Subsequent convictions come with $3,000 fines and month-long suspensions.

It’s important to note that these laws apply whether the car was in motion or stopped. If you were on your phone in the driver’s seat of a parked car with its engine running, you’d be subject to penalty under Ontario’s laws.

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Why are the penalties for distracted driving so stiff?

In Ontario, the penalties for distracted driving are serious because the consequences of distracted driving are more serious.

  • #1: Distracted driving causes 80% of accidents.
  • 2x: Since 2000, distracted-driving-related death has doubled.
  • 3 sec: How long you can drive distracted before you pose a major threat.
  • 4x: You’re four times more likely to crash when you’re unfocused.

But even with all this knowledge, 77% of adults and 55% of teenage drivers say they can easily manage texting while driving. They can’t, and neither can you. Whatever’s happening on your phone can wait until your car’s engine is off.

What about non-technology distractions?

Reaching for an object — whether it’s a cup of coffee, a key card or a face mask — makes you nine times more likely to get into an accident. We rarely think about actions like that as distractions, but the IIHS did in a recent study, where they looked at the percentage of distracted-driving accidents caused by other forms of distraction:

  • Interacting with passenger: 11.7%
  • Holding object other than cellphone: 5.6%
  • Talking/singing/dancing alone: 4.9%
  • Smoking: 3.6%
  • Adjusting radio/climate control or inserting/retrieving CD/cassette: 3.3%
  • Eating: 2.8%

While you won’t get fined for doing any of these things the way you would if you were on your cell phone, the accident you cause will increase your insurance rates and put you out for at least a couple of weeks — maybe more.

How can you prevent distracted driving?

Easy ways to set yourself up for success before getting behind the wheel include:

  • Set up your GPS destination before to driving
  • Activating your audio playlist before to getting behind the wheel
  • Switching your phone to flight mode
  • Putting your phone away – no temptation, no problem
  • Pulling over safely when you have to make a call 
  • Using a safe-driving app, like Onlia Insurance, to identify your distract-ed driving habits and change them

For more information and tips on how to stay distraction-free, check out our Distracted Driving 101 blog.

What do you think of Ontario’s new distracted driving laws? Will it help keep our roads safer, or is there more we can do? Tweet us your thoughts @OnliaCA #OnliaCA.

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