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Distracted Driving in the News again (Ontario)

Today, the Federal Government called for tougher penalties, along with increased national uniformity when it comes to distracted driving. This call to arms was long overdue. Our personal injury lawyers can tell you that distracted driving has been a problem since at least 2004, if not earlier. Think of all of the car accidents that have happened since 2004 across Canada….Disturbing if you look at the stats. I suspect that a lot of those accidents were non-reported distracted driving accidents. Law enforcement just takes time to catch on to the trends. Distracted driving in many ways, is also more difficult to prove than drunk driving. More on that later.

Distracted driving is NOT drunk driving. Drunk driving is covered under the Criminal Code of Canada. It’s a uniform definition across the country.

Distracted driving on the other hand is defined and covered under provincial legislation. That means what’s described as distracted driving in one province, can be different in another province.

In Ontario, holding your mobile device, even if you’re not looking at it, while operating your vehicle can be interpreted as distracted driving:

In Ontario, it’s against the law to:

  • operate hand-held communication and electronic entertainment devices while you’re driving
  • view display screens unrelated to your driving

Examples of hand-held devices include:

  • iPods and MP3 players
  • GPS
  • cell phones
  • smart phones
  • laptops
  • DVD players

But what if I’m idling at a red light or a stop sign? Can I still send that text, or make that call? Unless that call is to 911 to report an emergency, then the answer is “NO”.

As of September 1, 2015 the fines and penalties for distracted driving will increase.

If convicted of distracted driving, a fully licenced driver (holder of Class A, B, C, D, E, F, G) or a hybrid driver (holder of a full-class licence and a novice licence such as Class G and M1) 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

If convicted of distracted driving, a novice driver (subject to the Graduated Licensing program) will be 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

Novice drivers will not be subject to demerit points.

Drivers who endanger others because of any distraction, including hand-held and hands-free devices, may still be charged with Careless Driving under the Highway Traffic Act or even Dangerous Driving under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Both charges carry heavy fines and penalties, if convicted, including 6 demerit points, fines of up to $2,000 and /or a jail term of six months, and up to two-year licence suspension in the case of Careless Driving. Dangerous Driving is a criminal offence and includes jail terms of up to five years.

Here’s the crazy thing. The definition is distracted driving, and the penalty is different in each province! So, once you cross one provincial line to another, you’re dealing with a totally different system. This creates total and utter confusion while driving, especially given that nearly every motorist on Canadian roads has a cell phone these days.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau would not only like to end the confusion about what constitutes distracted driving, but also create uniform penalties across the Province so that Canadian know what to expect if convicted. Minister Garneau would also like to set stiffer fines and penalties for those convicted of distracted driving. The Toronto Personal Injury Lawyer Blog previously reported the story of the Kanagasbapathy family of Toronto.

In August 2013, 52 year old mother of 2, and grandmother, Ranjana Kanagasabapathy was boarding a TTC bus Steeles near Middlfield Rd. in Toronto. At around the same time, a motorist, Vincente Babobe Abris was busy on his cell phone and not paying attention to the road. What happens next?0001r_Goldfinger-200x300

Because Abris isn’t paying attention to the road, he plows at full speed into the idling TTC bus which was picking up and dropping off passengers.

The result? 12 TTC passengers sent to hospital with serious injuries. Ranjana Kanagasabapathy dies as a result of the collision.

The Judge fined the distracted driver the maximum under the Highway Traffic Act at that time (2013). $280

A measly fine of $280 is exactly why Minister Garneau wants to tighten the rules when it comes to distracted driving. We at our law firm consider it the new drunk driving. Only, those capable of distracted driving is anyone who has a cell phone. Which nowadays, is basically everyone. Drunk driving is only limited to those who drink, which exempts a large portion of the population who either don’t drink, or enjoy responsibly. There is no build up of bad decisions in a distracted driving case. All it takes is one beep on the cell phone, and a terrible accident can happen. That’s why it’s become more prevalent than drunk driving.

Our lawyers agree with Minister Garneau when he went on record stating that he believes that driving requires 100% of a driver’s attention. We also agree with Minister Garneau when he stated that “having robust and nationally consistent enforcement measures and penalties will help mitigate the negative impact of this increasingly pervasive problem on Canada’s roads“.

Today, our lawyers are seeing more distracted driving cases, than drunk driving cases. The problem with enforcing these cases is that proving distracted driving isn’t always as easy as checking the cell phone records for incoming/outcoming calls, emails or texts. There is so much more going on peoples’ phones these days than just communication. Playing a video game (Pokemon Go!), checking a photo or video on YouTube; looking up a calendar entry, of just reading an old email won’t be caught by your cellular carrier’s records. This makes enforcement difficult when there are no witnesses.

Enough law talk? Sure. Congrats to Toronto’s professional basketball team on finally acquiring a Power Forward. We haven’t had a Power Forward since Chris Bosh left town to join Lebron James in The Decision. Let’s just hope that Kyle Lowry’s wrist heals nicely and that he’s in proper game shape for the playoffs.

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