Types of Distracted Driving: What is Illegal?

Written By: John McLeish

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents in Canada. In fact, the Ontario Provincial Police calls distracted driving the “number one killer on roads”, as it is attributes to more fatalities than any other type of crash, including impaired driving.

What is “distracted driving”?

Under sections 78 and 78.1 of the Highway Traffic Act, drivers are prohibited from:

  • Using handheld wireless communication, such as cell phones
  • Texting, dialling or emailing
  • Using handheld entertainment devices, such as iPods or MP3 players
  • Viewing display screens unrelated to driving
  • Programming a GPS device

What can you do without breaking distracted-driving laws?

  • Use hands-free wireless devices such as Bluetooth
  • Wear headphones
  • Eat or drink
  • Talk with passengers
  • View the display screen of a GPS unit that is integrated into the vehicle, or mounted on the dashboard, without obstructing the view of the driver
  • Use portable MP3 players that are hands-free
  • Call 911

What is the new penalty?

A June 2015 amendment to the Highway Traffic Act increased the penalties for distracted driving in Ontario. Fines have risen from $60-$500 to $300-$1,000, plus three demerit points. Although things such as eating and talking to passengers do not violate the distracted-driving law in Ontario, they still are a distraction. Additionally, if they cause others to be put in danger or result in an accident, there can be even more serious consequences.

Drivers convicted of careless driving automatically receive six demerit points, fines up to $2,000 and/or a jail term of six months. Dangerous driving, a criminal charge that is often laid in the case of an accident causing serious injury or death, can result in a jail term of up to 5 years.

Distracted driving is broken down into three categories. Manual distractions require the driver’s hands to be taken off of the wheel. This can include eating, applying makeup or adjusting the radio. Visual distractions cause the driver to look away from the road and traffic situation, perhaps when operating a GPS, searching for an item, or browsing through music. Cognitive distractions impede the driver’s focus and takes his or her attention off the road. Examples of these would include being preoccupied, talking on the phone, chatting with passengers, or falling asleep.

Many distractions, including texting and driving, fall into all three of these categories and cause an increased risk of danger to the driver, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other motorists on the road.

As a personal injury lawyer in Toronto, I have, sadly, seen too many unnecessary injuries and casualties to people inside – and outside – cars. Happily, though, reports indicate that 90% of drivers do understand that distracted driving is extremely dangerous, so police are optimistic that these new regulations will encourage them to put down their phones while behind the wheel.

Let’s keep our eyes on the road.

John McLeish


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